Following several years of small crops and less than ideal conditions, Burgundy needed a “great” vintage, and when in 2015 a relatively problem-free growing season produced ripe and clean fruit at harvest, the vintage garnered lavish praise and prices ran away at the annual Hospices auction. Burgundy collectors are now eagerly awaiting the release of the wines. Prices are likely to be stratospheric, and the wines hard to find at any price. Are they worth it?
The answer is: yes, if you choose carefully. The reds overall are successful, much more so than the whites (though some quite fine whites were made). But even among the reds, producers struggled to find the right balance between fruit and acidity. Where they succeeded, the wines are magnificent–the best since at least 2005. But success was not uniform, even among the very best producers, and too many wines are ripe, rich and charming but lack the balance needed to achieve greatness. For the most part, the harvest period was clement, despite a little rain. For the reds, it was therefore a matter of optimization–picking when the fruit was ripe but still had good levels of acidity—based on the state of each particular vineyard. A few days either way didn’t result in disaster, but it didn’t result in perfection either. Once the wines were in the cuverie, the next task was managing the extraction, as it was easy to get that wrong as well, especially given the high ratio of skins to juice.
For the whites, early picking (in August!) was essential to preserve freshness; too many of the wines picked in September are top-heavy and lack balance, though they are fruity and charming and will no doubt find an audience.
The 2015 growing season began well: the spring was very dry, and while oïdium was a danger, it could be treated effectively. The flowering began on the early side and passed well, followed by some clement rains in June. Temperatures turned extremely hot in July (I was there early in the month and recall a succession of days in the high-90s F.), and dry, after which a generally warm August, though with some beneficial rain, allowed the maturities to advance rapidly, leading to an early September harvest. The weather during most of the harvest was ideal (other than a September 1st hailstorm that severely damaged parts of Chablis). The grapes were healthy and ripe (see the photo at the top of this post of grapes from Roumier’s Bonnes Mares), and little if any triage was needed, though the berries tended to be small. Quantities were generally small to normal, and there was very little malic acidity, though the malos often took a long time to complete (a handful were still going when we visited in November).
The Reds. Producers frequently compared this vintage to a mix of 2009 (also very ripe, though a bit plush for some critics) and 2005 (a ripe but dense and intense vintage whose strong tannins have kept most of the better wines completely shut down, even 11 years after the vintage), with 2015 having more structure and density than 2009 and less intense tannins than 2005. Others, such as Aubert de Villaine, cited 2003 and 2005 as reference points (2003 being even more ripe and intensely fruity–to the point sometimes of overripeness–than 2009). The most intriguing comparison, though, was made by Michel Lafarge, who reached back to 1929 for a parallel (he was born in 1928 and so had many opportunities to taste the ‘29s in their prime). The ’29s combined a forward and generous nature with elegance, purity and concentrated flavors, and, making the comparison most apt, the texture of the best wines was exceptionally rich. For it is in their silky textures that one finds the special appeal of the best 2015s, and what to me sets them apart from any of the more recent vintages cited as parallels. However, while the ‘29s aged reasonably well, they were not long-distance wines, and similarly the ‘15s, unlike the ‘05s, are likely to be enjoyable by those reading these notes, rather than their grandchildren. This is not to say the ’15s will not close down after bottling, but it is unlikely to be for such an extended period as the ‘05s have, and the tannins are far less prominent in the ‘15s.
All that said, while there are few poor wines in this vintage, and many that will give pleasure to those who are happy with lush, fruity Burgundies (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), finding the wines that will epitomize the magic of Burgundy at maturity–balancing the ripe fruit with enough acidity to provide terroir transparency, and with silky textures–requires a bit more effort. Yet it’s likely that all the 2015s, from great to just ok, will carry price tags not seen before for young Burgundy. Only the very best wines will be worth the premium.
There were successful reds in all parts of the Côte d’Or, and one of the features of a uniformly ripe vintage such as 2015 is that wines from areas more notable for their strong acidic structures (Auxey-Duresses, to cite one example), got ripe in this vintage but still retained enough acidity to give them excellent balance. Similarly, Steen Ohman (Winehog) has noted that within the prime areas of the Côte, wines from those vineyards prone to remain cooler (especially those located in the combes, or valleys between the slopes where cool breezes predominate) generally achieved better balance than their counterparts from warmer sites. Also, Nuits St. Georges merits special mention, as the wines seemed more refined, and less rustic, than usual.
The Whites. Often in warm vintages, the whites have more trouble maintaining balance than the reds, and 2015 is no exception. For the most part, the wines are rich but fat and heavy, lacking the crisp acidity that characterizes the best white Burgundies. Nonetheless, the fruit and floral aspects of these wines will certainly appeal to many people. And there were growers who foresaw the problem, and picked very early (at the end of August) to capture the acidity in the wines; these are among the most successful whites of the vintage. (Stopping the malolactic fermentation, as at Jadot, also seems to have been a successful formula in 2015.) Nevertheless, 2014 remains a far better white wine vintage, and if the 2015 whites get caught up in the overall vintage hype, they are unlikely to represent good value.
The Usual Caution. Predictions based on barrel tasting are difficult even in the most straightforward of vintages. Wines in barrel can change from day-to-day depending on such factors as the temperature in the cellar and the barometric pressure, and more than once, a producer has noted that his wines tasted very different a week or even a day before. Furthermore, wines are often reduced at this time, particularly as racking during the elevage seems to have gone out of favor among many producers, and this may make the wine attenuated and difficult to read. And of course, many things can happen between barrel and bottle.
A Preview of Coming Attractions. As many of you know, I have been working for the last several years, together with Allen Meadows, on a book on Burgundy vintages from 1845 to the present. We are now nearing the end of the (rather voluminous) manuscript, and if all goes well, the book will appear in print by late 2017. If it achieves our aims, it should provide insight into what a contemporary Burgundy lover may expect from vintages, both older and younger, that are still available in the marketplace, as well as providing an historical record of older vintages and a perspective on how the production, the quality and the appreciation of Burgundy wines have all evolved over the past centuries and decades.
The Côte de Nuits
DRC. Not surprisingly, DRC made brilliant wines in 2015, the best of which may ultimately stand comparison with ’99 and ’90. (Aubert de Villaine, though, favors a comparison of ’15 to a mix of ’03 and ’05–the richness of ’03 but without the surmaturité, and the structure of ’05 without the strong tannins.) The Echézeaux was a bit of a heavyweight, rather intense, and notwithstanding the fairly refined tannins, it seemed rather muscular for Echézeaux, though it was sufficiently reduced to make any judgment quite tentative. The Grands Ech had great balance and elegance, dense sweet fruit, and a soaring finish–showing finesse and precision, it will be a great Grands Ech. The RSV was extremely dense, with characteristically complex spice, and had a more open structure and more softness that the Grands Ech (or the Riche, for that matter). Aubert said he thought this would be one of the top wines of the vintage, but at least on this day, fine as it was, the Riche, LT and RC all surpassed it. The Riche, which unlike the RSV had been racked, had a superb and classic Richebourg nose, with black cherries, game, soy, violets, minerals and perfume, and remarkable intensity, power and finesse, plus an extremely persistent finish. The La Tâche elicited a “wow,” with a nose of oriental spice that jumped out of the glass and a silky texture, though some tannins that seemed slightly aggressive–due to the recent racking, according to Aubert–plus excellent transparency and great length. The Romanée-Conti, often reticent at this stage compared to the LT, was quite different, but a level beyond the LT. One could sense the spherical structure even on the nose, while on the palate it was elegant, with amazing finesse and a finer silk even than the LT, plus almost infinite complexity and a super-extended finish. Overall, these are very great wines—at the top level, among the finest of the vintage–and will be worth the stratospheric prices they are sure to command.
Liger-Belair. Louis-Michel has crafted extremely fine wines once again, and they are largely consistent across the range. The Vosne Village was very fine, with sweet red and black fruit, good lift and balance and a sense of silk, and the Vosne Clos du Château, while reduced, still displayed great purity, as did the Vosne Chaumes, with a sense of freshness and a spicy mineral finish. The Vosne Suchots was quite dense, but had supple tannins and a pure finish, while the Vosne Petits Monts, with a bit cooler fruit and a coffee note, had suave tannins and was developing some silkiness. The Vosne Brulées, which will not be commercialized (only 1 barrel is made), had great depth to the nose and a lovely note of rose petal from the stems; this was quite complex, with balance, lift and amazing energy. The Vosne Reignots had a nose of deep black cherry and, as I wrote, “bloody duck”, but more prosaically, this had real density and dry extract, and while the tannins seemed a bit stronger here, this will be very fine. The Echézeaux seemed a bit denser, less elegant and less light on its feet than the best Vosne 1ers crus, but the reduction made it hard to read. The La Romanée was still quite primary on the nose, with black cherry, spice and soy notes, and with great density; it opened to an immensely powerful and minerally finish with great transparency; meanwhile, the tannins, while not shy, were quite supple.
We also tasted a Mazis-Chambertin Cuvée Collignon from the Hospices de Beaune that was intense, rich and persistent, and a Clos de la Roche Cuvée Kritter, also from the Hospices (both of these purchased by a group of which I am a member), that had great clarity and density, and was structured and intense, powerful yet refined. Finally, we tasted two versions of the 2014 Vosne Clos du Château, one farmed organically and the other farmed and raised biodynamically, and I do have to say that, despite my skeptical view, which is that biodynamics is mostly organic farming with a lot of mysticism added, there was just a bit–but a noticeable bit–of greater purity on the biodynamic version.
Hudelot-Noëllat. Charles van Canneyt told us there had been more than 25 days between the domaine’s first and last pickings in the Côte de Nuits, as they strove to optimize the maturity in each parcel. Yields were normal, the alcoholic degrees topped out at 13.5 (for the Nuits Murgers) and he used a small amount of whole cluster. While the range didn’t seem entirely consistent, the best wines were top-notch, including a Bourgogne (which also excelled in 2014) that was quite ripe but had good balancing acidity and will likely be a good value for the vintage, and a lovely Chambolle Village that had bright black cherries on the nose and palate, a creamy texture, spice and a saline touch, with excellent mineral lift. The Nuits Murgers and Chambolle Charmes were both reduced, but the Nuits was showing a velvety texture and a floral component, and the Charmes had incredible depth of fruit on the nose. The Vosne Beaumonts was particularly outstanding, with bright fruit and spice on the nose, a gamy element, and mineral purity in the center, an intense wine with a lot of dry extract. The Suchots was both more powerful and had sweeter fruit, but I slightly preferred the clarity of the Beaumonts. The Malconsorts had a pure and spicy nose, with deeply pitched dark fruit; on the palate, it seemed deceptively light at first, but then incredibly pure fruit came back, and it showed great equilibrium, purity and lift on the finish, almost like a ’10. The Romanée St.-Vivant was characteristically spicy and had succulent fruit, with the acidity almost hidden underneath but definitely present, some strong but supple tannins and excellent length. Best of all was the Richebourg, with deeply pitched black fruit, incredible density and power, great balance and supple tannins plus a long, minerally finish.
Meo-Camuzet. While there was some variation here, for the most part these are outstanding wines, beginning with the Vosne Village; I particularly liked its depth, intensity and spiciness. The Nuits Murgers was also particularly good, ripe and sweet, dense, earthy and powerful, though with an alcohol level of almost 14o. The Clos de Vougeot was less alcoholic, at 13.4o, and was ripe, dense and very concentrated, with the concentration carrying through the long finish; this will need considerable time. We tasted two versions of the Vosne Brulées, one racked into tank and the other back into barrel; the former was showing more wood and the nose was a bit difficult, but both displayed wonderful silky textures, purity in the middle, and a long, pure minerally and spicy finish with supple tannins. The Vosne Cros Parantoux, which comes from a cool climate site, was a particular standout, with a super-dense nose of black cherry, citrus and minerals, and great refinement on the palate; this was pure and had great balance. The Richebourg was also extremely fine, with a nose that showed exceptionally ripe fruit, though very primary still; it was large-framed (with the wood still in evidence), with supple tannins and a developing velvety finish.
Sylvain Cathiard. Young Sébastian Cathiard continues to improve the quality of these wines, including modulating the oak treatment; however, word is out, and the prices have more than kept pace with the increasing quality. Discussing the inevitable comparison with 2005, he noted that the 2015s had silkier tannins. While the lower-level wines could still benefit from less new oak, the 1ers crus were excellent, including a Nuits Aux Thorey where the ripe fruit really came through but was balanced by good acidity and a transparent minerality, and though there was some earthiness, overall this was more like a Vosne without the spice than a Nuits. By contrast, the Nuits Murgers was much denser and more powerful than the Thorey, earthy and with more pronounced tannins, but also with a purity of fruit that ran through it from nose to tail. The Vosne En Orveaux (from the combe) was especially fine, with pure black cherry fruit and light oriental spice on the nose, plus soy, cream and minerals; this was juicy, light and pure, with a supple, almost silky texture to it. The Vosne Suchots had deeper spice and was quite saline, with some strong tannins and a peppery note, while the Vosne Malconsorts, which had finished its malo only two weeks earlier, was the hardest to understand, but even though it was not yet integrated, it had great density and enormous depth, and a long structured finish suggesting that with time, this will be superb. Finally, there was the glorious Romanée St.-Vivant, with its subtle mix of oriental spices, sweet ripe cherry fruit underpinned with a pure minerally acidity, drive, energy and presence, strong but highly refined tannins, and a long, elegant pure finish.
Jean Grivot. As at Cathiard, the malos here were very late, and a few had not even finished when we tasted in November. The Vosne 1ers crus were quite good, particularly a soft, elegant and complete Beaumonts (albeit with a hint of chocolate) and also a soft, silky and seamless Suchots. Pride of place, however, went to the Nuits 1ers crus, including a Pruliers that was structured, intense and earthy, with a sweet minerally saline finish; a Boudots that was creamy and voluptuous, with a super-rich, velvety, and exceptionally long finish; and particularly Roncieres, with pure and translucent strawberry fruit on the nose, an incredible silky softness, and tannins that dissolved into a light, sweet, slightly earthy and extremely long finish. While as usual I found the Clos de Vougeot here to be too massive for my taste, I liked the Echézeaux, which was rich and velvety, and was particularly impressed by the Richebourg, with its supple fruit, a deep spicy mineral underpinning, characteristic Richebourg power, and a long and elegant finish.
Georges Mugneret-Gibourg. I am a great fan of the wines of this domaine, but I admit that the ‘15s left me a bit puzzled. The domaine’s wines are characteristically pure, elegant and subtle, but in ‘15s by contrast more than a few wines seemed a bit on the extracted side–perhaps a little reminiscent of the ‘03s here, but in that vintage, it had been virtually impossible to avoid. That is not to say the wines are bad–several are quite excellent–just that one expected a bit more in this vintage from these supremely talented, if self-effacing, winemakers. Certainly, I will want to retaste these in bottle as I am hoping that my concerns may prove to be unwarranted. Among the more successful wines were a Nuits Chaignots that had gobs of sweet fruit yet kept its freshness, with cinnamon, ginger and mocha notes, some tannin at the end but silk developing–another instance of a Nuits that seemed Vosne-like in character; a Ruchottes-Chambertin with great purity and a creamy texture–an integrated, fresh and energetic wine, probably helped by the mix of old and young vines; and a Clos de Vougeot that, despite its richness and density maintained drive and power in the middle, with a long, suave finish–if the Ruchottes was exuberant, this was stately.
Arnoux-Lachaux. This was our first visit to this domaine, about which we have been hearing some very good reports of late. Pascal Lachaux is passing the baton to his son, Charles, who is 27, but remains fully involved. The results of this visit were mixed, with a good number of exceptional wines but others that were less persuasive. Lachaux used more whole cluster than normal in ’15, feeling it was appropriate for this vintage (in some of the better cuvées, it was 100% rather than a more normal 30-40%). Among the successes were a Vosne Hautes Mazières, with pure black fruit on the nose, good acid balance and a nice spicy element–a very good Village wine; a Nuits Clos des Corvées Pagets, a 1er cru with excellent mineral lift, purity and spice; and a Vosne Chaumes, whose purity and density I found quite appealing. The Echézeaux was particularly fine, more in red fruit than black, pure and with great balance, elegance and mineral lift, as was the Vosne Reignots (shown after the Echézeaux), still reduced but with a great deal of extract, combined with excellent freshness and a silky mouthfeel. The Romanée St.-Vivant was best of all, with a deep but restrained nose, beautiful black fruit and spice under, very precise and structured, perfumed from the stems, and with excellent balance, but above all it is the density here that presages an extremely fine wine as it ages.
Roumier. Not surprisingly, Christophe made brilliant wines in 2015. Christophe said they have a similar balance to the ‘05s, but that the tannins in ’05 were harder, and that waiting to pick in ’15 seems to have paid off. The Chambolle Village had spicy red fruit, excellent lift and elegance and fine balance, while the Morey Clos de la Bussière was, as expected, denser than the Chambolle, rich and a bit on the heavy side. The Chambolle Cras was superb, with a soaring black cherry nose, anise and a strong floral note; while dense and complex, it remained extremely well balanced, with a long, saline, intense finish. The Bonnes Mares was complex and pure, with intense dry extract, power, cinnamon spice, cherry fruit and citrus and floral notes; the tannins were very refined, and the long finish seemed to be just beginning its arc of development. The Chambolle Amoureuses was even better, with amazing density of sweet fruit, a deep saline minerality and nearly as much body as the Bonnes Mares; this is a remarkably refined wine, with a simply amazing finish that was dense, fruity and pure, and nearly endless.
Ghislaine Barthod. This domaine doesn’t get the recognition it deserves, probably because there are no grands crus. Nonetheless, the winemaking is consistently excellent, and the range of 1ers crus provides a wonderful view of the terroir differences within the same commune (Chambolle). The wines here were between 12.8 and 13.2o. In 2015, the entire range was appealing, beginning with a deep, dark-fruited and somewhat brooding Chambolle Châtelots (Ghislaine said that, with the advent of cold weather, the wines had begun to shut down a bit); a Beaux Bruns that had a hint of sandalwood and was developing a creamy texture, with a spicy finish; and an extremely rich Gruenchers, a crowd-pleaser that elicited positive reactions from the group, though its brown sugar aspect made me hesitate. Better still were the Baudes, with a spicy red fruit nose that jumped out of the glass, fine balance, structure and purity, and a Fuées, with incredible depth on the nose, perfume, cinnamon and mineral lift–while it perhaps lost a little focus towards the back, it had a real sense of velvet to it. Yet another step up were the Charmes, with a spicy black cherry nose that had a beautiful mineral underpinning, density and structure on the palate, tension and richness, with a driven finish and a fair amount of tannin that was quite refined; and a Veroilles that showed incredible purity on the nose, followed by a velvety richness, penetrating minerality and power, and again, refined tannins that gave structure to the wine (this parcel of Veroilles, just above Bonnes Mares, was classified as a 1er cru in 1987). Best of all was the Cras, a worthy rival to Roumier’s beautiful expression of this terroir, with the most dense and intense nose of the entire range, complex, with an almost chewy texture–this is close to grand cru weight, and displays silky tannins and a tense, powerful and extremely long finish. This will need time but will be superb.
J.F. Mugnier. In the late ‘90s and through much of the first decade of the 21st Century, this domaine produced some of the most compelling wines of Burgundy, with a purity and lightness of touch that beautifully expressed the terroirs, particularly Musigny and Amoureuses. In more recent years, however, it seems as if the magic has, for reasons that are mysterious to me, begun to fade. They are still good wines, but out of barrel, at least, they no longer seem as compelling as they once did. The Chambolle Village was very nice, lighter but also more spice-infused than the Roumier version, and with considerable charm, but the Fuées didn’t seem fully integrated, with the components expressing themselves seriatim rather than as a whole. Similarly, the Bonnes Mares, while dense and showing some creaminess, did not seem put together, and was rather clumsy compared to the Roumier version. The Chambolle Amoureuses had more potential, with some good fruit and silkiness, but will need time to come together. The Musigny was deeply pitched, dense, with rich fruit in the middle, lots of dry extract and hints of silk, with strong tannins and a bright minerally acidity–a very fine Musigny, to be sure, but not one of the top wines of the vintage, as it so often was a decade or more ago. Perhaps it’s simply unfair to expect that level of quality on a consistent basis, though it was what one had come to expect at this address.
Fourrier. The affable, talented Jean-Marie Fourrier compared ’15 to a cross between ’09 and ’10, but said that overall, what really sets this vintage apart is the texture of the wines. He noted that it was a vintage characterized by small berries, and an exceptional ratio of skins to juice, and that the challenge in ’15 was to keep balance and purity, and not to over-extract. Not surprisingly, he was up to the challenge. The Gevrey V.V., from the north side of the village (which Jean-Marie felt did particularly well in ’15 because of shade from the hillside in the late afternoon) had nice clarity, light fruit and meat aromas; it was pretty though not textural, with a persistent finish. The Chambolle Gruenchers had a gorgeous raspberry nose, with floral overtones, excellent presence and a velvety texture developing, and had transparency and great length. Among the Gevrey 1ers crus, the Goulots had a nose with deep spice, black cherry, anise and lavender, and there was excellent lift and equilibrium, with the tannins already becoming velvety, and a long, pure finish. The Combe Aux Moines had a deeply pitched nose, power and purity, though it was slightly meatier and sturdier than the Champeaux, which in its turn was particularly outstanding, with notes of clove and dark berry fruit–a mineral-driven wine, wrapped in a light layer of sweet fruit, and a fabulous finish of transparent minerality, spice, freshness and excellent length. The Clos St. Jacques was simply superb, with a wonderful sense of coolness to it–great balance, but also purity and harmony, enough black cherry fruit but not overdone, a juicy quality, and notes of meat, cinnamon and anise; at the end, it was very minerally, with supple tannins and a remarkably long, pure finish. The Griottes unfolded in layers, with a silky texture developing; the fruit was sweeter than that of the CSJ, but it was also minerally and dense, ultimately richer, riper and denser than the CSJ but perhaps not having quite the same transparency–differences in temperament rather than differences in quality. Finally, we saw two of the negociant wines, a charming and balanced Chambolle Amoureuses that didn’t quite have the intensity and precision of the domaine wines, and a Chambertin that surely did, a mineral-driven, powerful wine with great energy, balance and length, as well as superb precision, finishing with supple and refined tannins.
Trapet. Overall, Jean-Louis Trapet fashioned a very successful range in 2015. The Gevrey Village, while not yet racked and therefore very reduced, showed great fruit on the palate and a lovely texture, and the Gevrey Ostrea, while also reduced, had a beautifully transparent mid-palate, with red fruits, cinnamon and allspice, meat, good minerality and a long and pure finish. The Gevrey Petit Chapelle, at 14o, had great density and intensity, indeed almost grand cru weight–there is a lot of material here, though it needs some further development. The Gevrey Clos Prieur was particularly outstanding, with pure minerality, enormous drive and freshness, and plenty of fruit–a massive 1er cru that nonetheless kept its balance. The Chapelle Chambertin and Latricieres-Chambertin both had plenty of ripe fruit, the former quite minerally with a lot of tannin wrapped in dense fruit, and the latter with a cool minerality typical of the terroir; right now, though, both were carrying a fair amount of wood which will need to integrate. The Chambertin, as usual, was the best wine here, showing great promise with rich fruit, meat, cloves, a saline, juicy note, and great density but also lift, with some wood spice at the end, followed by a beautiful, pure and long finish.
Bruno Clair. Mostly very good wines here in 2015, albeit with some inconsistency, as a few of the wines showed some rather hard tannins for the vintage. The Chambolle Veroilles (a Village wine; only the Barthod parcel of this lieux dit is classified as 1er cru) was particularly successful, with cool fruit, strawberries and perfume, transparent minerality, and a sense of density but also excellent balance. The Savigny Les Dominodes was also a standout, with a nose of cassis, minerals, cinnamon, mocha and toast and excellent density on the palate; this is quite refined for Savigny, with a bright, minerally finish and supple tannins. The first three Gevrey 1ers crus we tasted (Clos Fontenys, Petit Chapelle and Cazetiers) all had good clarity and density, but seemed a bit on the meaty side; they were all good without being compelling. The last of the 1ers, the Clos St. Jacques, was a different story: delicate black fruit on the nose, with very transparent minerality, hints of cinnamon and cocoa, finishing very well with suave tannins; if it didn’t quite match the clarity and drive of the Fourrier, it was very fine nonetheless. The Clos de Bèze was open, pure, charming and fresh; not a dense or powerful example, but very nice. Best was the Bonnes Mares (all from Terre Blanche), with brooding black cherry fruit, spice, power, density and a remarkably long finish.
Ponsot. When I visited Burgundy around September 9th in 2015, the harvest was in full swing most places, but Laurent Ponsot remained magnificently unruffled; though he had moved up his harvest date somewhat, he would not start until after most others had finished. Notwithstanding the dangers of late picking in this vintage, the results were for the most part superb. Alcohol levels, according to Laurent, were around 13.5o. The Chambolle Charmes was excellent, still quite primary and with a strong minerality, while the Morey 1er cru Cuvée des Alouettes was even better, with great density, deep fruit, spice and a touch of champignons; this was quite minerally and pure and extremely long. The Corton Bressandes was still not quite finished with its malo (as was also true for a few other wines we encountered on this trip), so could not be evaluated. The Griotte-Chambertin had beautiful sweet cherry fruit on the nose, with perfect mineral balance; the tannins were still on the fierce side but also beginning to soften and develop a silky quality, and there was both rich fruit and great purity on the exceptionally long finish. The Chapelle-Chambertin, with sweet raspberry fruit, seemed to have bright balancing acidity, and is likely to be fine, but is still developing. Curiously, the Chambertin seemed to lack weight, and the fruit seemed a bit simple. However, this was a momentary hiccup, as the Clos de la Roche was first-rate, with deep sweet fruit, smoke, champignons, and an iron filings edge; the tannins were strong but supple, and the wine had a purity and directness to it, with power and complex spice, floral and plum touches, and good length. Best of all this year was the Clos St. Denis, with a pure, calm nose of brilliant precision and depth; with rich fruit and great purity, supple and refined tannins and a long, elegant silky finish, this was a truly astonishing wine that will likely stand among the best of the vintage, and it reminded me in that respect of the ethereal 1985.
Dujac. Jacques Seysses guided our tasting, and it appeared as though he has become increasingly re-engaged in the affairs of the domaine. Certainly the Seysses family produced a very fine range of ‘15s. We began with an interesting side-by-side of the domaine and negociant village Moreys, with the domaine showing much greater density, and Jacques was forthright in saying that the yields were higher, and there was less concentration, in the negociant version. Neither, though, was especially compelling, but matters rapidly improved with a terrific Gevrey Combottes, which was intense and very fruity–a pretty wine but with serious density behind it, displaying a creamy texture. The Vosne Beaumonts had been racked only an hour before, but even so had a sweet, velvety entry, great richness, and focus. The Malconsorts was not yet racked but still showed a soft and elegant texture and great potential, and the Echézeaux, also unracked, had intense black fruit and a lovely silky texture. The Charmes-Chambertin was spicy and meaty, with rich dark plummy fruit and a pure, bright minerally finish. The Clos St. Denis, which had recently been racked, had beautiful pure black cherry fruit on the nose, again a lovely silky texture, with great density but also elegance, good minerality and a bit of spicy oak on the long finish. The Clos de la Roche had an orange note on the nose, along with dense dark fruit, and great intensity on the palate, then quite creamy tannins and great length; this is a wine of power and density, and it will be quite interesting to compare it at maturity with the Ponsot. Finally, the Bonnes Mares, which had not been racked, showed less density but more purity than the prior wines, with a strong minerality and good balance; there was a sense of dryness on the finish, but the tannins seemed quite refined.
Clos de Tart. We tasted a close approximation of the likely final blend. Alcohol will be about 13.3o for the final blend and it will be close to 50% whole cluster. The result will be quite fine: the blend showed a deep intense spicy nose with as much minerality as fruit, even though there was quite a bit of the latter; this was deep, balanced but very powerful, with a touch of gingerbread, a bit of wood, and fairly supple tannins; on the finish, there was excellent drive and persistence.
Often at the negociant tastings one gets a broader view of the relative success of the vintage: given the mix of wines made from properties owned by the domaine and those purchased as grapes or as wine, you can get a view of how easy or difficult it was to succeed in the vintage. My tastings at the negociant houses reinforced the impression that ’15 was not a vintage in which success was assured; rather, it was a vintage in which many wines will provide very good drinking (at a price), but in which the full potential could be realized only if the right decisions were made at critical points.
Drouhin. We began the Côte de Nuits range with a very fine Nuits Procès, which was more reflective of the vintage than Nuits (not a bad thing)–an accessible wine with terrific plummy and sweet cassis fruit, silkiness and good balance. The Chambolle Amoureuses was, as expected, better still: beginning with huge, sweet fruit up front, this was a dense, complex and massive Amoureuses with a gorgeous finish, though the minerality seemed a bit sidelined by the fruit. One of the best wines of the tasting was the Vosne Petits Monts, with great balance of fruit and minerality, incredible density, finesse, and a pure long finish. Among the grands crus, the Clos de Vougeot was very good, with a raspberry nose and notes of cocoa, anise, plums and cherries, but with some mineral lift and nice purity and texture on the finish. The Griotte-Chambertin was very reduced, as it always is at this time of year, but seemed broad-framed, rich and supple. The Bèze, uncharacteristically (but like several other Bèzes in this vintage) seemed soft, meaty and sweet, but lacking grip. The Musigny was quite reticent on the nose, and there was a bit of reduction, which seemed to harden the tannins, but it showed its class on the finish, with profound density, depth and balance.
Faiveley. Erwan Faiveley and winemaker Jerome Flous presented the wines, and noted that there was now between 25-30% whole cluster in most cuvées. While the 1ers crus were a bit inconsistent, the Nuits Les St. Georges was superb, with a deep and subtle nose of black fruit, spice, anise and minerals, a wine of great presence and density but with excellent lift, a silky texture, and no little power; on the finish, it was incredibly persistent, with tannins mostly buried in the fruit. The Echézeaux was lush and charming, but there was good lift from the acidity, and mellow tannins in back, while the Clos de Vougeot was more structured, dense and tannic, with a long transparent finish–a wine that will need time. The Mazis had huge, ripe, almost plummy fruit but the acidity to support it, while the Clos de Bèze had a nice mineral edge to the nose, and was quite structured, though it seemed to be missing a little of the characteristic Bèze spice. Best were the Latricières and the Clos de Bèze Ouvrées Rodin, which supported Erwan’s view that Gevrey had been the most successful commune in 2015, because of a bit more of the much-needed rainfall in August. The Latricières was silky and transparent, with deep sweet fruit that was completely balanced by the acidity, a long and seamless wine. The nose of the Ouvrées Rodin jumped out of the glass, with great intensity, saturated black fruit, small berries, a slate-like minerality—this was a pure and seamless wine, forming a rounded whole, with the tannins both supple and completely integrated.
Bouchard. As is discussed below, I found the Côte de Beaunes overall quite successful here, while the Côte de Nuits wines were somewhat more inconsistent. My favorites among the latter included a Nuits Les Cailles, which as with many Nuits wines in this vintage, seemed more elegant and less rustic than usual, though there was some real density here as well. The Chambolle Les Noirots (from purchased grapes) was easy and crowd-pleasing, and I mention it particularly because it seems to epitomize a number of the wines likely to come out of this vintage, with lots of sweet black cherry fruit and good texture and a saline touch at the end but not much evident acidity. The Echézeaux (a domaine wine) was in a not dissimilar vein, with velvet, perfume and rosewater notes, not quite grand cru weight, but elegant and understated. By contrast, the Clos de Bèze (also from purchased grapes) was in a heavy, powerful style, not an elegant wine but rich and ripe. Best of all was the Clos de Vougeot, a domaine wine, which had plummy fruit, cream, spice and soy on the nose, with lovely texture on the front palate, great balance and good density without being heavy, and a long ripe fruit finish—an excellent expression of Clos de Vougeot, which seems to have produced more than its normal share of successes in this vintage.
Jadot. While the wines are consistently improving under Frédéric Barnier, the range and its sources are sufficiently broad and diverse that even as they become more individually expressive, consistency remains elusive. That said, there were a number of successful Côte de Nuits wines in 2015, beginning with a Nuits Cailles that was quite round and elegant for Nuits, with some spice, earthy tannins and a long finish. The Vosne Suchots was round, open, easy and well balanced, while the Vosne Beaumonts was also soft and appealing, with some soft tannins and excellent length. Better still was the Chambolle Amoureuses, which was soft, creamy and delicate though with some power behind; it seemed to have more density than some of the wines from this vineyard in this year, if not quite the precision of the very best examples. Not surprisingly the Gevrey Clos St. Jacques was the star 1er cru (and a star overall), with a beautiful pure nose of strawberries, cinnamon and minerals; this had purity, delicacy and balancing acidity—everything needed to make it an elegant, restrained and compelling Clos St. Jacques. Among the grands crus, there was a very good Clos de Bèze, with grilled meat and spice on the nose, a lot of sweet fruit but also good supporting acidity–an easy and early drinking wine that nonetheless showed some structure on the finish. There was yet another excellent Clos de Vougeot, and I especially liked its ripeness and balance. The Musigny was also quite good, with a nose of black cherry, cinnamon, pepper, violets and an orange note; this was a soft, juicy and creamy Moose which was quite lovely, even if not as precise as some, though with refined tannins and a persistent and elegant finish. However, the Bonnes Mares was showing even better, with even more density than most examples of this wine, great power and richness, but good structure and a drive and intensity that is quite compelling.
The Côte de Beaune
Lafarge. Frédéric and Chantal Lafarge are quite proud of their venture in the Beaujolais, and we sampled several of the ‘15s from this region. While beyond the scope of this review, I can say that, for lovers of Beaujolais, the results quite justify their pride. Their focus, however, remains on the Côte de Beaune, and their best ‘15s are truly exceptional. I quite liked the Volnay Vendanges Sélectionées, which had an excellent floral touch to add to the sweet black and red fruits and minerals; the Beaune Grèves, from 94 year old vines, which was quite dense, with lovely fruit and pure minerality, though it still seemed slightly unsettled; the Pommard Pezerolles (missing for the last three vintages because of hail), which was quite earthy and dense, with medium tannins, a nutty element, some cinnamon and a perfumed quality; and the Volnay Pitures, with pure and deep black cherry fruit on the nose, some earthiness in the mid-palate, and then pure fruit returning on the finish (this wine, which is from the Chanlins climat but entitled to be called Pitures, was not made in the last three vintages and prior to that, was labelled as Volnay 1er Cru; it was not entirely clear how it will be labelled in 2015, but welcome to Burgundy). However, the real fireworks were to come: the Volnay Clos du Ch. des Ducs, with a beautifully perfumed nose, was delicately spicy and pure, with significant but suave tannins and more power and complexity than the Caillerets, though the latter was more elegant. Indeed, the Volnay Caillerets was an exceptional wine, with great lift to the rich fruit, minerals, a floral touch, superb balance and purity, and consistency from beginning to end–an elegant wine. The Volnay Clos des Chênes was stunning: a soaring nose of complex red and black fruits, hints of game, minerals and spice, with exceptional purity; on the palate, it was super-dense, minerally, balanced, with great ripe fruit, suave tannins and a pure, extremely long finish, a wine of supreme elegance to put up against the best wines of the Côte de Nuits.
D’Angerville. Guillaume d’Angerville told us that while 2015 had finally been a year without hail, there had been a small crop nonetheless, down about 30% from what had been average before the hail, except in Clos des Ducs where there was a normal crop. The wines here were in different stages, with the Taillepieds still in malo, and therefore not judgeable, and the other wines having been recently racked, except for Champans and Clos des Ducs. The difference was quite noticeable, as the recently racked wines were distinctly less expressive than the Champans and Ducs. Nonetheless, I think there is excellent potential in the Volnay Les Angles, with sweet black fruit, perfume and a floral touch, plenty of acidity and tannin and a lot of extract; the Volnay Fremiets, which was concentrated and had huge volume on the palate, and tannins that while on the dry side seemed to be turning silky; and Volnay Caillerets, with a good mineral underpinning to the dense, super-ripe fruit. The Champans, having been racked months earlier, was showing beautifully, with deep black cherries and spice on the nose, perfume, red berries and mineral lift; the tannins seemed a bit fierce at first but then receded. The Clos des Ducs was even better than the Champans on the nose, with a gamy touch; I loved the lift on this wine, even though it was quite dense, with a lot of dry extract, plus of course intensely rich fruit, and a perfumed quality. The tannins were much more restrained and refined than those of the Champans, and there was excellent density on the long finish.
Comte Armand. Last year I wrote that while Paul Zinetti seemed to be a quite talented winemaker, he hadn’t been given much to work with in the hail year of 2014. This year, he had far better raw materials, and has made the most of them. He compared 2015 to 2010 (the other one who mentioned ’10 as a comparative was Jean-Marie Fourrier), citing their balance and elegance. The two wines from Auxey-Duresses showed what can happen when a terroir typically characterized by its strong acidity actually gets ripe, and the results were marvelous: the Auxey Village was rich, sweet and charming, with the acidity providing a lovely counterweight rather than completely dominating (this wine should be a good value in ’15), while the Auxey 1er Cru had darker fruit, was less intensely rich, but with a great balance of fruit and minerally and more finesse. The Volnay Fremiets was a bit affected by reduction but had huge, juicy fruit supported by the acidity, and a pure finish of ripe fruit and stones (Zinetti rightly observed that this particular wine was perhaps a bit masculine for Volnay). The Pommard Clos des Epeneaux (which will include the young vines, as well as a small amount of press wine) had incredibly rich black fruit, cinnamon, soy and game, plus an earthy but not rustic quality, and some pepper at the finish—this had excellent lift and finesse, and very supple tannins, plus an extremely long finish.
Jean-Marc & Thomas Bouley. Thomas Bouley, a dynamic and highly talented young winemaker (age 34), is now in charge of this family domaine. He talks passionately about his terroirs, describing the role of the wind at each site in more animated detail than I have heard from any other producer. He uses whole clusters judiciously, not as a matter of rote; as he explains, balance is key, and he believes that whole clusters can bring more complexity, but also can obscure terroir; consequently, he uses it in a few, but by no means all, of his wines. (As Allen Meadows is fond of pointing out, nearly everything in winemaking involves tradeoffs, and while there are and have been many great winemakers who favor a consistent approach to all or most of the wines they produce, an increasing number of winemakers are adopting an approach that strives to adapt many basic decisions to what they perceive as the needs of each particular terroir.) His Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune was yet another example of a wine from an appellation that usually struggles to get ripe, but that in this vintage displayed a lot of sweet fruit, richness and a very nice texture. The Volnay Village is a blend of 12 different plots, and despite some reduction on the nose, the minerality gave an excellent lift to the rich fruit on the palate—a soft yet still structured wine–while the Volnay Clos de la Cave, made with 40% whole clusters, had good dry extract, freshness and purity. The Beaune Reversées, a 1er cru made with 75% whole clusters, was quite reductive on the nose, but on the palate it offered up ripe cherry fruit, earth and good minerality, and while the first impression was of a soft and charming crowd-pleaser, there was more to this underneath, and it needs some time. The Pommard Fremiets, also 75% whole cluster, had a strongly earthy nose, excellent minerality, structure, some dry tannins but good purity, while the Pommard Rugiens, which had been completely de-stemmed, had a nose of black fruit, chocolate, game and earth, while on the palate it showed both power and purity, with a really intense finish. Best, though, were the Volnay 1ers crus: Caillerets, also completely de-stemmed, with ultra-ripe fruit, good mineral expression, ripe tannins and a complex, juicy and quite silky finish; and Les Carelles, coming from only 18-year old vines, which had a great combination of sweet fruit and complex, fresh minerality, plus silky tannins. Best of all was the Volnay Clos des Chênes Vieilles Vignes, from 45-60 year old vines and 55% whole cluster, which had a nose that reminded me of the beautiful Lafarge Chênes (yes, it’s the same terroir, but we tasted several during the trip, and this is the only one that came close to replicating the soaring nose of the Lafarge); this was tout en finesse, silky, and with refined tannins, great purity, and a sneaky punch at the end. It will be fascinating to taste this side-by-side with the Lafarge when both mature.
Michel Gaunoux. As always, we tasted the recently bottled vintage (2014), as the domaine does not believe in barrel tastings. 2014 was another in the series of difficult vintages in Pommard, as hail once more devastated the crop. The domaine did a very nice job as usual, but neither of the Pommards (Grands Epenots and Rugiens)—despite having lovely noses (cream and anise and raspberries and roses, respectively)–entirely escaped the effects of the hail. The Corton Renardes was the most successful, with a nose of sweet red fruit, smoked bacon and woodspice, a lighter style of Corton with a creamy texture developing. Then again, why wait for the recent vintages to come around? The domaine still has imposing stocks of older vintages, and we were privileged to sample the great ’62 Pommard Rugiens, with its nose of spice, strawberries and chocolate, plus wood smoke; it had great grip, a touch of sous bois, and all of the charm and delicacy of the ‘62s (94).
Chandon de Briailles. As is often the case at this time of year, the wines were severely reduced and as a result sometimes hard to read. The Savigny Lavières, which was in tank, was more accessible, and had real density and a smoked meat quality, with excellent transparency and medium tannins. The Pernand-Vergelesses Ile de Vergelesses, a 1er cru that is often a bargain because of its long and difficult name, had a spicy nose, with excellent clarity, ripe intense fruit and an orange note; it had a lot of deep minerality and was clear, cool and precise. The Corton Bressandes was quite pure and intense, with chocolate notes, while the Corton Clos du Roi was intense and well-structured, with excellent mineral lift and purity, and some chocolate cherries. (Also, some quite good whites were made here; see below.)
DRC. The Corton was destemmed 25-30% and raised in 50% new oak (there was little or no destemming and nearly all new oak for the other cuvées) and had great purity and power, and is dense and brooding–a great expression of Corton, but then Corton is not Vosne.
Bouchard. Bouchard produced some excellent Côte de Beaunes in ’15. The Beaune Clos de la Mousse was soft, easy and charming, but the Beaune Teurons was more serious, with deep black cherry fruit, cinnamon and anise, and a very nice balance of acidity underlying it, plus an excellent texture developing. The Beaune Grèves Vigne de L’Enfant Jésus had a rich texture and bright acidity, classic Baby Jesus covered in rich ripe fruit (the “velvet pantaloons” of Burgundian foklore?). The Volnay Clos des Chênes (made with 40% whole cluster) was quite nice, with good lift and balance and a velvet texture allied with bright minerality, if a slight heaviness in the finish. The Volnay Caillerets Ancienne Cuvée Carnot, made with 20% whole cluster, had a lot of baby fat also, and a really nice floral touch; there was just (barely) enough acidity to balance, and some quite dry tannins in back that might have reflected the reduction, but it wasn’t entirely clear—this may turn out quite well but it was a bit hard to read at the moment. The Corton was amazingly soft and forward for Corton, but because it’s Corton, it had great volume and balancing acidity, and there was a velvety texture as well. The tannins were complete rounded and this finished really well—an outstanding Corton.
Jadot. We only saw a small number of their large array of Côte de Beaunes. Best were a Beaune Clos des Ursules, which had lovely pure red fruit on the nose, and was quite spicy, with some excellent lift to it, and some power as well; while there were dry tannins at the end, there were also hints of a velvety texture developing. The Pommard Rugiens (from Rugiens Bas) was also quite good, with deep black fruit and violets on the nose, and lots of sweet fruit but also good lift on the palate; his had a peppery finish, but was not a rustic style of Pommard.
Other Domaines and Negociants: At Faiveley, hail in ’14 resulted in only half a crop in ‘15 for the Corton Clos des Cortons Faiveley, which was hugely dense, almost too dense, a massive wine and very fine, but perhaps lacking a little balance and generosity. At Paul Pillot, we tasted a very nice Chassagne Rouge Clos St Jean, with a ripe black fruit nose, a touch of stems, and creaminess, and at Ch. de Meursault, a pleasant Volnay Clos des Chênes, soft, sweet and forward on the palate, with power and minerality after, and a Corton (from the Ladoix side) with excellent minerality, power and weight, and a very persistent finish. At Senard, the Corton Clos du Roi had rich, ripe fruit and spice, and was balanced and perfumed; it did however seem a bit light by the standards of the vintage, and this was even more true for the Corton Bressandes, while the Clos des Meix and Paulands both seemed to have quite a bit of drying tannins.
The Côte de Beaune:
Leflaive. I had a good conversation earlier this year with Brice de la Morandière, nephew of the late Anne-Claude Leflaive, who has taken over running the domaine. He seems quite serious about restoring the luster of this estate, which has experienced a rocky period since the departure of Pierre Morey, and appears to take the problem of premox quite seriously. As an initial measure, starting with the 2014 vintage, Leflaive has begun using Diam corks for its wines. As for 2015, régisseur Eric Rémy told us that the domaine began harvesting on August 28th, and they rushed to finish picking the grands crus before a storm on August 31st, which turned out not to be as bad as predicted–except in Chablis, where it hailed. The grands crus had alcoholic degrees between 13.1 and 13.3, with the 1er crus just slightly lower. The first few ‘15s here were good without being compelling, but the quality got significantly better as one mounted the hierarchy, including a very good Puligny Folatières, with a pure floral spicy nose that had notes of cream, pears and lime, excellent balance and some wood smoke at the finish. The Puligny Combettes also showed promise, with a strong mineral presence in the front palate, a very stony and concentrated wine but also with some excellent sweet fruit. The Puligny Pucelles was extremely fine, with a lovely nose displaying minerals, white flowers, lime, pears and a touch of oak; this was taut, with a lot of dry extract and was fully put together, balanced, precise and with a very fine texture and tension to it. The Bienvenues-Bâtard seemed a bit disjointed, but the Bâtard was superb, with the classic Leflaive nose and great power, drive, intensity and purity on the palate, plus a very long mineral finish and lots of dry extract. The Chevalier was even better; with an elegant nose, it was very pure and precise, if with more power than one typically expects from Chevalier, and a lovely intense stoniness, great tension and a finish that was still going after a minute-plus.
François Carillon. I’ve loved many of the recent vintages from this domaine, but I found most of the ‘15s here to be “of the vintage,” which is to say, a bit fat, slightly high in alcohol (around 140) and slightly on the tropical side—wines that many people will love, and with reason, but that lack tension and are not stylistically what I look for. Perhaps typical in this regard was the Puligny Folatières: with a nose showing peaches, pineapple, floral notes, spice, cream and fat, this had a sweetness that stopped just short of being exotic; this is a wine will not last forever but it is rich and will be a crowd-pleaser. There were some, however, that transcended the vintage, including an excellent Puligny Village that had lime and pear fruit, very nice acidity and real purity, and a Puligny Perrières that had a beautiful nose of lime and pears, a floral component and great richness on the palate but just managed to keep its balance, with peaches and cream, a spicy finish, and minerals; this wine was layered and will need time to develop fully.
Bernard Moreau. Alexandre Moreau stated that the domaine started picking on August 28th, because of fears there would not be enough acidity in the wine, and believing that phenolic maturity had been achieved. Alcohol levels here did not exceed 13.1o. The early picking definitely helped avoid the flabbiness one sees in too many whites of this vintage, and the wines were highly reflective of their respective terroirs. Among those I particularly liked were the Chassagne Champsgains, with a nose redolent of licorice, spice and apples, an excellent balance of acid and fat, good tension and a very long finish with a touch of citrus; a Chassagne Vergers, which was a bit heavier than the Champsgains, with a lot of volume and good acidity; Maltroie, with a nose of spice, crème brulée and lemon, plus a sweetness that replicated as richness on the palate, yet with a lot of minerality and depth—this was quite complete, with a rich, creamy finish. The Chassagne Morgeots had more structure and intensity, and was creamy and more floral, with pears, lime, and just a touch of wood, plus lemon and a honey note at the finish. Best of the 1ers crus was the Grandes Ruchottes, with power, steel, great depth and tension and complex notes of anise, pear, apple, spice, caraway and lemon; it is extremely well balanced, deeply minerally and very long. The Bâtard was also terrific, with a calm, creamy, minerally and floral nose and similar palate notes, a very rich middle and still a tightly wound finish that went on for well over a minute.
Paul Pillot. Thierry Pillot also started his picking on August 28, and his Grandes Ruchottes came in at 13.1º. He compared the vintage in whites to a cross between ’09 and ’12. Along with Moreau, this domaine consistently makes some of the finest Chassagne 1ers crus, and ’15 is no exception. Among the successes here are a very good Chassagne Village, which has good purity, balance and persistence; a Chassagne Clos St. Jean with transparency and a light spicy minerality, which was a charming though not profound wine; and a Chassagne Caillerets, with excellent purity, especially on the spicy mineral finish. More profound were the Chassagne Grandes Ruchottes, which despite a lot of reduction on the nose, showed great spicy minerality, notes of peach, pear and citrus and a lot of dry extract—a powerful wine with great purity and linearity on the finish; and the Chassagne La Romanée, from nearly 80 year old vines, which was deep and dense, with great tension, plenty of acidity, but also quite a bit of richness—showing perhaps just a touch of the heaviness of the vintage, but with a powerful mineral finish. Punching well above its weight, and my favorite of the tasting, was the Chassagne Grande Montagne, with a subtle, elegant, pure nose, perfect balance on the palate, flowers, citrus, a hint of brown sugar, deep minerality and an incredibly long, linear and fresh finale.
Roulot. Jean-Marc was traveling, so Eric Bonin conducted the tasting. He echoed the sentiments we had heard elsewhere, that the ’15 whites would be highly variable, and that early picking was a key, though he noted that picking dates were also dependent on factors such as the vineyard location, rootstock and age of the vines. The domaine started harvesting on August 27th and alcohol levels were between 13 -13.5o. He likened the vintage to 2009, when they also picked early and made some of the more successful wines of that vintage. The Bourgogne Blanc, Meursault Village and Meursault Vireuils were all very good, but things really got rolling with the Meursault Luchets, which had an excellent balance of fruit and minerals on the palate, notes of spiced pear, citrus, anise and white flowers, plus a saline quality, and excellent tension, purity and freshness. I liked it even better than the excellent Meursault Tillets, which was balanced, charming, rich and floral, and the equally fine Meursault Tessons, which was more powerful and intense, more minerally in style but with a bit more wood showing. Among the 1ers crus, the Clos des Bouchères had medium body, some excellent dry extract, good energy and a spicy long finish, but the Charmes was even more impressive—complex, balanced, intense yet very elegant, with both drive and finesse–this wine had everything one could ask for. Curiously, at first it seemed almost as if the Perrières and the Charmes had changed places, with this Perrières showing less minerality, more fat and fruit, along with anise and grapefruit touches, though the pure and precise minerality came out on the finish, which was razor-sharp, extremely long and very elegant.
Latour-Giraud. Jean-Pierre Latour, who thinks his ‘14s will be among the finest whites he has ever made, referred to the ’15 whites as being wines for “la grande publique.” He said that the key in ’15 was to preserve freshness, and that while the vintage compared somewhat to ’09, the ‘15s were more concentrated and had more freshness. He started picking at the very beginning of September. The Meursault Narvaux fit well with his notion of a rich wine, with just enough acidity to support it–a crowd-pleasing effort. The Meursault Charmes was still a work in process, and while it could run to top-heaviness, Jean-Pierre felt it would have more purity when finished. The Meursault Genevrières was quite floral, with more acidity than Charmes, though lots of flesh as well, again a wine that was still evolving and could go either way. The Meursault Perrières was more fully evolved, with good volume–a very easy style of Perrières, with anise and orange notes and a long creamy finish. The Meursault Genevrières Cuvee des Pierre was easily the best, with a reticent nose hinting at great depth, minerals, citrus and white flowers, plus plums, anise, lemon, and minerals; this had balance and excellent tension though a slight hint of the relatively high alcoholic degree (probably around 13.8) at the end.
Ch. de Meursault. This was our first visit to this estate, which was acquired in late 2012 by Olivier Halley; since the acquisition, Halley, with assistance from Bernard Hervet and Stéphane Follin-Arbelet, both formerly of Bouchard, has reconstituted the domaine and embarked on a program to seriously upgrade the quality of the wines. Together with the sister estate of Ch. de Marsannay, they now dispose of a broad range of wines from both Côtes. We tasted a small selection of the whites, which are well made though generally reflective of the vintage–which is to say, creamy, fat and enjoyable young. The Meursault Charmes Dessus was a step up, with a compelling mineral nose, white flowers, beeswax and anise; this had great purity, density and power. The Corton Vergennes was also quite complex and balanced, with good spice and power and a very fine minerally finish.
Jadot. Under Jacques Lardiere’s aegis, the maison had routinely blocked the malolactic fermentation of the whites—with results that I often found perplexing—but if ever there was a year that justified this strategy, 2015 was certainly it. Preserving the malic acidity has kept these wines much fresher than they would otherwise have been, and if the resulting fruit tends more towards apples than pears at times, it is a small difference. Among the successful whites here were the Chassagne La Romanée, with an excellent acid/fruit balance and floral and peppery qualities; the Puligny Combettes, which had brightness, tension and lift, as well as a creamy note; the Puligny Folatières, with a lovely middle, showing balance, purity, and more soft sweet fruit than the other Puligny 1ers; and a particularly attractive Puligny Caillerets, with spice, white flowers and lemon on the nose and a lovely sweet, floral mid-palate followed by a long, very bright finish. The Bâtard was also very good, combining a floral quality with characteristic power and good tension, while the Chevalier Les Demoiselles was, as usual, a standout: balanced, fresh and elegant, with brioche, cream and flowers on the nose and appleskin, citrus, pear and more flowers at the end. Even better was an aristocratic Montrachet, at first very soft and floral on the palate, but then the minerality started to kick in, followed by notes of anise, pepper, honeyed pears and a very spicy finish.
Bouchard. We began, as usual, with the William Fèvre Chablis. A late season hailstorm severely affected a number of vineyards, including Montée de Tonnerre, Montmains and Les Clos, and overall I found this range too soft and sweet to appeal to someone who likes classic Chablis. However, the Bougros Côte de Bouguerots and the Valmur both rose above the pack, the former well integrated, with a pure minerality and good density, only a touch of sucrosity in the middle, and a long, intense finish and the latter quite complex, with pears, flowers, spice, flint and minerals, all well-integrated, plus a creamy texture and a tense, dry and dense finish. The Valmur, at least, will need time.
As with their Chablis counterparts, the whites here were quite marked by the vintage: a bit too sweet, soft and tropical for my taste, though they will please many drinkers. The one standout was the Montrachet, which had more purity on the nose, along with almonds, anise, and white flowers, and more bite and intensity on the palate–a bit heavy, perhaps, but still quite deep.
Drouhin. The whites were harvested beginning September 2nd. Here, as at Jadot (but not habitually), some malos were blocked in 2015. The whites were inconsistent, with some showing softness, charm and a bit of tropical fruit (not that those are in any way unpleasant characteristics). Among those I liked the best were a very nice Chablis Les Clos, which had a pure stony nose and dry minerality on the palate—here there was power, weight and intensity, plus a long, saline finish. The Chassagne Morgeot Marquis de Laguiche had excellent tension and power, and while the fruit was certainly ripe and present, this seemed remarkably minerally for a ’15. Best of the 1ers crus was the Puligny Clos de la Garenne, which had warm spicecake on the nose, and while the palate was on the softer side, with sweet peaches and hints of pineapple, it had a fresh, minerally finish and a velvety texture that I particularly liked. The Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche was also very fine, with purity on the nose, a minerally middle, honeysuckle, pepper and spicecake notes along with good fruit, and an exceptional finish that had a creamy texture and was subtle, complex and persistent.
Faiveley. Faiveley’s whites were generally pleasingly plump, but the Corton-Charlemagne as usual stood out. Though it had power and minerals, it was in a softer style than usual, and was quite charming, but probably will be best drunk fairly early.
Other Whites: From Chandon de Briailles, two excellent whites, a Pernand Ile de Vergelesses, with a nice mineral balance and a deft floral touch; and a Corton Blanc (from Bressandes), which was spicy and very creamy, with a nice minerality, white flowers, excellent balance and considerable charm. From de Montille (tasted rather quickly at lunch), a potentially very good Meursault Perrières, with the nose not yet what it should be but displaying beautiful intense minerality on the palate; a superb Puligny Caillerets, with a lovely nose of minerals and white flowers, quite pure and with great freshness; and a spicy, floral and elegant Chevalier-Montrachet. From Laurent Ponsot, a nice Montrachet, very round and floral, with sweet peaches, honeysuckle and brown sugar, but also a mineral core. From Méo-Camuzet, a Hautes Côtes de Nuits Blanc Clos St-Philibert that was quite surprisingly fine (again, from a terroir that rarely achieves full ripeness), with quite good acidity but a creamy note, spiced pairs, minerals and white flowers.
A Note on the ‘14s: It was not easy to taste the red ‘14s after the ‘15s, as the volume, richness and texture of the latter tended to make the ‘14s seem lighter and more insubstantial than they are, an impression compounded by the fact that some of the ’14 reds are starting to shut down. Nonetheless, I saw nothing to suggest that last year’s conclusions—that for reds, in the Côte de Nuits this is a very nice vintage for near to medium term drinking, but in the Côte de Beaune, it is a vintage marked by the effects of three years of hail damage—needed any modification.
As for the whites, ’14 remains an outstanding vintage, far better overall than ’15, and while selection is, as always, critical, there are many beautiful whites that will need some time to unfold. DRC’s ’14 Montrachet (tasted this November) is particularly outstanding, with remarkable purity and, as Aubert de Villaine noted, more minerality and less opulence than usual—which is why I liked it even more than usual. On a less positive note, premox continues its ravages among earlier vintages, with no evident progress towards a solution.
© 2016 Douglas E. Barzelay
First, an apology to regular readers of this blog: this report is both later, and slightly shorter, than usual, as I have been focused on trying to finish the draft of a book on Burgundy vintages. (Stay tuned for more news about this as it progresses.) It has been fun writing it—and even more fun to research!—but this blog has suffered a bit of neglect in consequence.
During my annual visit to Burgundy this past November, much of the talk focused on the 2015s, already heralded as an exceptional vintage, and neither the Asian stock market gyrations of a few months earlier, nor the tragic events in Paris just two days before, prevented a feeding frenzy at the annual auction of the Hospices de Beaune wines, where prices for the top cuvées of 2015 were up 40-50% from the prior year.
Amidst all this clamor, several vignerons lamented that the 2014s are likely to be completely overlooked. If so, then from the consumer standpoint there may be some excellent buying opportunities. In brief, there were some excellent reds made in the Côte de Nuits: wines that, while rarely profound, will provide some fine drinking without a long wait. The whites from Chassagne and Puligny are even better, and some growers think them the best since ’96. Unfortunately, hail once again visited a large swath of the Côte de Beaune, affecting much of Meursault, Volnay, Pommard and Beaune, and the wines rarely escape some finishing dryness as result.
The growing season in 2014 had considerable ups and downs: a warm and clement spring led to a relatively early, rapid and even flowering; however, on June 28, there was a violent and extensive hailstorm, which traveled from south to north (usually the hailstorms come in from the west), causing a great deal of damage in the Côte de Beaune, and some lesser damage in the Côte de Nuits as far north as Chambolle. I had arrived that afternoon to take up temporary residence in Hameau de Blagny, on the border between Puligny and Meursault, and experienced the hail first-hand as it made its way up the Côte, just touching Puligny on its route of destruction. That night, the annual Elégance de Volnay, a Paulée-style celebration of the wines of Volnay, became a wake instead.
Following this storm, the weather took a decided turn for the worse, with cool and rainy weather dominating both July and August. The harvest date, which had looked to be precocious once more, slipped toward mid-September. However, finally at the beginning of September, the north wind arrived, along with sun, drying out the vineyards and allowing the grapes to mature under highly favorable conditions. For the most part, the harvest passed in good weather.
Potential alcoholic degree at harvest was a bit on the low side—barely over 12 degrees for many—and chaptalisation was frequent, though typically modest (about half a degree). Another issue for the growers this year was the presence of suzukis—a type of fruit fly that penetrates grapes and lays its eggs, causing the juice to turn to vinegar. However, most growers reported they were able to deal with this effectively in advance, cutting out affected grapes or bunches before the harvest. Yields outside of the hailed-upon areas were generally close to normal, a welcome relief after four small vintages.
The resulting wines in the Côte de Nuits are fresh and fruit-driven, yet with a good bit of terroir typicity, somewhat similar in profile (though not in growing conditions) to ’02, though the latter vintage has perhaps more fruit while the ‘14s, according to Christophe Roumier, have finer tannins. He further described the wines as having accurate flavors and luscious texture, though relatively light-bodied. The very best do have an added density and a completeness that will make for excellent drinking for many years, but most seem destined to please in the medium term. That said, they are are certainly richer than ’07, and more transparent than ’00, two other vintages that produced wines for medium-term drinking. I have even seen some analogies to ’85, a vintage that seemed deceptively easygoing at first but that is still providing a lot of superb drinking today (just recently, I had an amazing bottle of ’85 Roumier Bonnes Mares); however, at this point its not a claim I’d make for the ‘14s.
The whites in general (where not unduly affected by hail) have vibrant acidity and excellent depth. They are currently tightly coiled and will require some time to mature—though in a vintage such as this, one does have to worry about whether premox will claim them before they have a chance to fully open. Puligny seems to have been especially successful in this vintage, and Chassagne produced some lovely wines as well. Perhaps surprisingly, given the hail, the wines from Meursault can also be excellent, if less consistently so. While I was not able to taste much from Chablis, it also looks to be an extremely fine year for those wines as well.
The reds of the Côte de Beaune, as noted above, are often marked by the hail, with some dryness in the back—to varying degrees—but still, many have retained excellent fruit and transparency. Here the problem was not so much this year’s hail, as the relentless toll that three successive years of hail have taken on the vines. Yields were, not surprisingly, tiny.
Côte de Nuits
Roumier: These were among the best wines of the trip. Even the Bourgogne Rouge was full, rich and balanced, while the Chambolle Village had bright black cherry fruit and good balancing acidity. While the Chambolle Cras showed pure and focused fruit on both the nose and palate, it had not yet come together in the middle, though one suspects it will. However, the surprise of the tasting—if there can really be any surprises chez Roumier—was the Charmes-Chambertin (from Mazoyeres), which had a precision and focus that often eludes this terroir, even in Christophe’s hands, and it had a deep minerality along with a perfumed component, and well-modulated tannins. The Ruchottes-Chambertin had a complex nose of dark fruit, meat, cocoa, perfume and minerals, which carried through the palate, displaying power and complexity, but not a lot of tannin—this should be ready early for a Roumier wine. The Bonnes Mares, the Terres Rouges and Terres Blanches elements of which had been blended, showed a complex nose of heather, black cherries, black raspberries, a floral touch and an earthy quality; on the palate it was rich and ripe, with excellent intensity and a fine transparent finish; though the tannins were intense, they were quite refined. The Chambolle Amoureuses was even better, with great balance and precision, notes of coffee, red fruits, minerals, perfume and spice; this is a wine of great finesse that finishes with some strong, if highly refined, tannins. The Musigny, of course, was in its own world, with an amazingly calm nose of red fruit, citrus and cocoa powder and just a touch of new oak; there is great balance, purity and finesse here, and very smooth tannins.
Mugnier. Freddy described his wines of the vintage as “equilibré,” and that word recurs in my notes as well, beginning with the excellent Chambolle Village, which had sweet red cherries, spice and a floral note on the nose and palate and was quite a fine Village wine. The Chambolle Fuées had a less expressive nose, though more perfumed, and a touch of cumin; it also had a nice saline note, and was rich and with more tension than the Village. The Bonnes Mares was slightly disappointing in the overall context of these wines, lacking grand cru weight and with a slight harshness on the finish; it nonetheless was a good, if not great, example. With the Chambolle Amoureuses, however, there was a full return to form, with sweet, intense black cherry fruit on the nose and palate, great tension, precision and balance and a very transparent finish, with some refined tannins at the end. The nose of the Musigny was simply astounding, extremely pure, refined and delicate, with notes of soy, black cherry, perfume, minerals and a hint of magret de canard. However, on the palate it seemed a bit heavier, without quite the refinement of the nose, at least as yet, though it is well-structured and the tannins are quite fine. Overall, these are very good wines, without being amazing.
Ghislaine Barthod. I am more and more impressed with these wines, which in good vintages offer a study in precision and terroir. Sadly, Mme Barthod possesses no grands crus, but she certainly has among the broadest ranges of Chambolle 1er crus of which I am aware, and she makes the most of it. Ghislaine likes the “energy” in her ‘14s, of which she is justly proud. We began with a Chambolle Les Châtelots, which was quite pretty, with bright cherry fruit backed by a nice minerally acidity, and continued with the Chambolle Aux Beaux Bruns, which was more tightly knit than the Châtelots, with fleshy red fruit, spice and balancing minerality. The Chambolle Les Baudes was a step up in the complexity of the fruit; it was more structured, precise, complex and long, and was for me one of the stars of the range. The Chambolle Les Charmes was showing more richness, with a chocolate cherry note, flowers and perfume, but a bit of austerity on the finish that needs to resolve. Next was the Chambolle Fuées, another standout, with a bright black cherry, cocoa and spice nose, more structure on the palate, a creamy texture, and an almost sneaky amount of complex fruit, and some refined tannin here that will keep it. I also quite liked Les Cras, which had a sense of brightness and energy to it, and some lift at the back. Overall, as Ghislaine observed, these wines will be drinkable early, but the wines on the upper slope, at least, also have the potential to age gracefully.
François Bertheau. The elfin François Bertheau simply goes about his business, preferring to be out on his tractor rather than receiving visitors or attending Paulées. While his wines are not at the level of Roumier, Mugnier or Barthod, they can nonetheless be quite fine, as a bottle of the delicious 1985 Bonnes Mares from this estate (score: 93), drunk the week before our visit, amply demonstrated. Bertheau is pleased with his 2014s, and certainly the Chambolle Village was excellent, with lovely red fruit and spice and an open, charming and minerally mid-palate; at their best, these wines are built around disarmingly approachable strawberry fruit and an open texture, but with an excellent balancing minerally acidity. The Chambolle Amoureuses was in this style, spicy and open-knit, with a creamy texture developing, a touch of baked bread on the nose, and some medium-light tannins. The Bonnes Mares was the real star, however, with a lovely nose of heather, red fruit, mocha and minerals; on the palate, it was rich and ripe, with beautiful fruit and spice and yet a nice balancing acidity to it, deftly balanced and with some significant tannins that are well-modulated.
DRC. An old, and unresolvable, question is whether a vintage should be evaluated based on the best wines produced, the average, or some other criteria. In most years, the Domaine is the bellwether for what can be achieved in the vintage. With that in mind, what I found in these ‘14s was a great deal to like, but also not the density or profundity of the very greatest vintages.
The Corton had lots of fruit and good weight, but I thought there was a little bit of acidity sticking out. (Note that the Domaine, which had originally been of the view that the blending of the climats comprising the Corton, while necessary for the medium term, was a temporary measure, is now tending towards the view that this should be the permanent approach to this wine.) The Echézeaux was very spicy, developing some silk on the palate, very dense and powerful, but possibly slightly coarse—a kind of burly youngster. The Grands Echézeaux was, as usual, a significant step up: with dense but silky black cherry fruit, a touch of violets, minerals, citrus and stems; it has power but was more restrained than the Echézeaux, though a bit high in acid, and had a long pure finish with strong but covered tannins. The Romanée St. Vivant had wonderful spice on the nose, violets, and green olives; it was minerally with a floral touch, light fruit under, more modulated and finer tannins than the GE, and amazing length. The Richebourg was marked by a gorgeous floral nose, with spice, black pepper, olives, and minerals, then sweet red cherry fruit; it was transparent, powerful, maybe slightly burly in back, with strongly present but refined tannins, and a delicate finish. La Tâche showed explosive oriental spice on the nose; on the palate it was silky and creamy, and tout en finesse; there was deep and precise minerality and plenty of fruit, both red and black, from plums to berries, with super-refined silky tannins and an exceptionally long finish—a very great La Tâche and possibly a candidate for the wine of the vintage. The Romanée-Conti by contrast was more restrained at this stage (though in some sense, RC is always more restrained than LT), showing creamy raspberry fruit, spice and green olives on the nose; this was delicate, elegant, minerally, harmonious but a bit reticent, still with a bit of stem tannins to resolve and a small touch of oak to absorb as well. While it is a very fine wine, this may not be the most profound vintage for RC; it could be that the vintage is more suited to LT’s flamboyance.
Comte Liger-Belair. These were excellent, well-crafted wines as always, though the reduction made some of these a bit difficult to taste at this stage. The Vosne Village (now being raised in 350ml barrels to moderate the new oak influence) was ripe, round, soft and approachable, while the Clos du Château, bottled two months earlier, was showing extremely well: minerally and dense with pure black cherry fruit and great equilibrium. The Vosne Suchots had a velvety texture, with strong but refined tannins, while the Petits Monts was even better, transparent and dense, with great balance and tension, and refined tannins. The Vosne Reignots was reductive, as usual, but the finish in particular showed great promise; it was pure and refined. The Echézeaux seemed qualitatively different from the others, a bit light and not my favorite on this day, but the La Romanée showed its innate refinement, and was deep, dense and structured, with an extremely long finish.
Georges Mugneret-Gibourg. As usual, the sisters made extremely fine wines. I was particularly impressed by the quality of the Bourgogne Rouge, a charming wine that delivers remarkable value for its level. The Nuits VignesRondes was very pretty, though the tannins will need time to soften, while the Nuits Chaignots had more deeply pitched fruit, purity and a silky texture. The Chambolle Feusselottes was one of my favorite wines of the range, bright, pure and harmonious, with complex fruit, and I even preferred it to the Echézeaux, which was tighter and had more weight than the others and needs time. The Clos Vougeot had volume but also purity, and was excellent, though at the moment I somewhat preferred the Ruchottes-Chambertin, with its lovely perfume, wild cherry element, brightness and pure minerality. Overall, this was an impressive range of wines in 2014, and well beyond the more modest qualities of the ‘13s, tasted just following—lest anyone should be in doubt on this point.
Meo-Camuzet. While the tasting started a bit slowly, with some modest Village-level wines from the negociant side of the house, things brightened considerably with the Domaine’s Nuits Meurgers, with rich ripe fruit on the nose, excellent minerality, good transparency and a long spicy finish. We next tasted an interesting duo: Nuits Boudots, made with 20% stems, done as whole cluster, which added a nice wild strawberry component, and with a silky quality at the end, but some fiery tannins; and Corton Perrières, where the stems are removed and then added back, which the domaine believes adds a greenness that develops in time into rose petal, and which they find more interesting—this was spicy and dense, and you could feel the stems on the palate. The Clos Vougeot followed, and was particularly good, with a dense nose, rich ripe cherry fruit on the palate, good intensity and purity; there is a lot to this, but it will need time. The Vosne Brulées, always a favorite of mine here, had a spicy and brambly quality as well as black fruit on the nose, excellent minerally acidity and a long spicy finish; it is an elegant wine, very good but, as I noted, “not the ‘10”. The Richebourg was somewhat reduced, but there was brilliant spice under, and great lift, balance and harmony on the palate, with a cool minerally finish; this will be quite fine in time. We also tasted the ’15 Richebourg, and while I do not normally find it all that helpful to taste wines at this stage of their development, this was showing real density, but also a softness and silkiness, plus a fresh minerality. Yummy, to use a technical term, and perhaps a harbinger of the good things to come.
Cathiard. This was the Domaine’s first fully-organic vintage. The oak treatment continues to get lighter, which is a good thing. Malos were very late in ’14, and the Malconsorts had just finished. Many wines were showing some reduction during our visit. These are very fine wines, and are continuing to improve, but I do wonder at the huge run-up in the prices–not just of the more recent vintages, but of the older vintages as well. That said, the Vosne Village was excellent, quite harmonious and with good energy, and that sense of energy was also evident in the Nuits Aux Thorey and the Chambolle Clos de l’Orme, which seemed almost to be a 1er Cru in its weight. The Nuits Meurgers was dense and powerful, and if I slightly preferred the spicy Vosne-like qualities of the Meo, this was nonetheless quite good. The Vosne En Orveaux was muscular and dense, while the Suchots stood out for its purity and complexity—it was open, accessible, pretty and balanced. The Malconsorts was especially fine, very Malconsorts with its spice, rose petal, ripe black cherry fruit, brooding density, fine tannins and very long finish. The Romanée St. Vivant had a lot of volume for this cru, was intense but carrying its weight with grace, and had a suave, almost silky finish. Overall, the wines showed very well, and will make for excellent drinking, but don’t quite have the concentration and density of the very best vintages.
Grivot. Etienne’s wines have improved considerably in the past decade. That said, I found the ‘14s a bit mixed, though not without some considerable highlights. The Vosne Brulées had lovely transparency and rich, almost plummy fruit; while perhaps it lacked a little density, it was a real crowd-pleaser—not something one normally expects from Etienne! I particularly liked the Vosne Beaumonts, with bright fruit on the nose; this was pure, spicy, quite intense, maybe even brooding for Beaumonts and with a lot of tannin that will need time to resolve. The Suchots ratcheted up the intensity level, and though I didn’t feel it had quite the same balance as the Beaumonts, it was still very good—Etienne feels it has a further dimension beyond the Beaumonts, so time will tell. Etienne has recently begun showing the Nuits wines after the Vosnes, to highlight their quality, he says, but I am not yet convinced that it does them any favors. The Nuits Boudots seemed the best of them, but was quite reduced, and though it hinted at real purity under, it was pretty tough to assess with any certainty. The Clos Vougeot was, as usual, very dense and with fierce tannins, and I thought that the style of this, while consistent with the past, may not quite fit with this vintage. The Echézeaux was floral and more open, while the Richebourg brought everything together: balance, power, medium weight and more elegance than some past vintages. It was fine but not electric, but it could grow with time.
Hudelot-Noellat. Here, malos had finished at the end of September and the wines had not been racked when we visited. Although a few wines were hard to taste, overall this was a very fine range, as Charles van Canneyt continues from strength to strength. This is a domaine that has been producing very high quality for some time now, yet as fine as the wines are, Charles is clearly intent on refining them even further. The Vosne was the best of the three Village wines, with a superb nose of black cherry and a deep and pure minerality. The Petits Vougeots, which always seems to do well here (and gets no respect in the market, making it a consistent value) had a pure dark cherry nose, spice, good weight, and a long finish with round tannins. The Nuits Murgers, despite some reduction, was dense, earthy and focused, with relatively soft tannins at the end. The Vosne Beaumonts was showing extremely well, with a particularly gorgeous nose, and on the palate it was soft, elegant and approachable, with an excellent pure mineral finish. I preferred it to the Suchots, which while deeper-pitched had a more piquant acidity than the Beaumonts. Incidentally, Charles said that the Suchots vines, and those in RSV, are now around 100 years old. The Malconsorts was typically fine, with a calm nose and bright acidity; though this seemed a little soft and accessible for Malconsorts, that is not necessarily a bad thing. The Clos Vougeot had excellent weight and density, and some strong but relatively refined tannins. The Romanée St. Vivant was quite beautiful: a deep nose of black cherry, spice and mocha, with great lift, breadth, energy, silk and refined tannins plus a pure minerality. The Richebourg seemed a bit lighter than the RSV but had more lift and seemingly more elegance—almost as if these two wines had changed places in 2014. These will all provide great pleasure in the medium-term and beyond.
Chateau de la Tour. See below for the wines produced under the Labet label. The Clos Vougeot “Cuvée Classique” (the regular bottling, not specifically designated as “Cuvée Classique” on the label) has had a much longer elevage in barrel in recent years—the ’13 was not bottled until July ’15 and the ’14 will not be bottled until next July. This was perfumed, with chocolate notes, excellent depth and a silky texture. François Labet thinks it less opulent than either ’13 or ’15 and believes it will take 7-9 years to mature. The Clos Vougeot Vieilles Vignes was even better, with a lovely deep perfume on the quite complex nose, and excellent fruit and mineral lift on the palate leading to a very persistent, transparent finish, with strong but refined tannins. The Hommage á Jean Morin was not made in ’14, as François felt the difference between that cuvée and the Vieilles Vignes was not sufficiently marked.
Ponsot: Laurent typically picks late, and is rewarded more often than not with wines that have more richness and ripeness, without the sacrifice of tension or terroir (though some of the newer climats in his stable, such as the Cortons, don’t seem as yet to have achieved the same balance as his top wines). The successes in ’14 started with the Bourgogne, which had bright ripe cherry fruit and a touch of garrigue; but the biggest over-achiever in ’14 was the village Morey St. Denis, which melded bright, ripe fruit, good lift, balance and transparency and remarkable focus for a Village. The Premier Cru Morey Cuvée des Alouettes was also quite fine, similarly bright and transparent, though with more mocha/chocolate notes and more prominent acidity than the Villages. Among the Gevrey grands crus, the Charmes was quite good, but the Griotte and Chapelle were a step up, with the former pure and balanced, with beautiful red cherry fruit, especially on the nose (as with many wines of this vintage, it was quite lovely though not profound), and the latter being more smoky and citric, with notes of dry-aged beef. The Chambertin Cuvée Vieilles Vignes was transparent, balanced and very long, one of the best Chams I have encountered here (and much better than the simpler if pleasant Bèze). The Morey Grands Crus, as usual, stood out from the pack, with an incredibly intense nose on the Clos St Denis T.V.V.; it was transparent and silky, a very fine wine if, again, not the most profound vintage of this. The Clos de la Roche V.V. was very minerally, intense, with very bright fruit up front, and an extremely long finish. These Ponsots will give great pleasure in the medium term and beyond.
Dujac. Jeremy Seysses described the ‘14s as having a dark fruit profile, open and friendly, and as wines for the medium term. We did not taste the whole range here, but the wines were well-made and both the Morey Villages and the Charmes-Chambertin could be described as crowd-pleasers. I particularly liked the Vosne Malconsorts, with great purity, density and power; and the Clos de la Roche, which had excellent minerality and lift and was relatively refined.
Clos de Tart. Jacques Devauges has now taken up the reins here, and guided our tasting, though the 2014 was the last vintage made by Sylvain Pitiot. As usual, we had a fascinating tasting of various components, leading to a tasting of the assemblage, which included the young vines (in some years, these are kept aside to make the Forge). The wine was saline, with lovely weight, excellent structure and complex sweet fruit, and an extremely extended finish. This will certainly be very good, but how good will be a question of the final blend, and of the integration of the acidity, which on this outing seemed a bit prominent.
Fourrier. While I have been visiting Fourrier for several summers now, this was the first time I’ve done so in November. It proved to be a great time to taste, but I wonder if there’s a bad time to taste at this brilliant Domaine. Jean-Marie is an extremely thoughtful winemaker, and adjusts his winemaking and elevage to fit the character of the vintage. We tasted a terrific range of ‘14s, including a Vougeot 1er Cru Petits Vougeots, with lovely weight, great purity and a nice spicy touch, still with some tannins to resolve; Gevrey Cherbaudes, with a creamy texture and a long, spicy, pure finish, if perhaps slightly dry tannins; and Gevrey Combe Aux Moines which had excellent presence, ripe black cherry fruit, and was pure and direct. The Clos St. Jacques was a “wow” wine: pure red and black fruits, very minerally, with great lift and a long, lacy and elegant finish. The Griotte-Chambertin was even better, with a lot of weight, great lift and elegance; it was dense, with a lot of dry extract and refined tannins—a complete and serious wine. After, we tasted the negociant Chambertin, which was very pleasant but a bit evanescent in back, and the tannins weren’t as refined as with the Griotte. While the negociant portfolio is growing, and the wines are consistently very good, overall I think that they haven’t yet quite reached the quality or consistency of the Domaine wines.
Trapet. Another excellent range of wines from Jean-Louis Trapet. The 1er crus were consistently fine, with a Petit Chapelle that had a creamy texture, good balance and a denser, more serious side than many ‘14s (made with 40% whole cluster); a Clos Prieur that had rich fruit, a high-toned minerality, a lot of weight and excellent density; and a Gevrey Capita (a blend of 1er Crus) that had dense black fruit on the nose, power and grip, a heavyweight that kept its feet. As Jean-Louis remarked, this was a good vintage to add whole clusters, as they give more gravitas to the wines. The Chapelle-Chambertin was a bit too reduced to fully evaluate, but I learned an interesting fact about it: the domaine had purchased this vineyard in 1913 from the inventor of the injector device that was used (with limited success) to battle phylloxera; when purchased, the vines were ungrafted, and they remained that way until finally pulled up in 1938, one of the few vineyards in Burgundy to remain ungrafted so late. The Latricières, while also showing reduction, was easier to get to and had excellent minerality and density, along with deep fruit and spice. The Chambertin was, as usual, the best wine in the stable, with a spicy calm nose, bright red cherry fruit, a silky palate, power and great clarity on the finish.
Bruno Clair. This domaine made some of the better ‘13s (which we re-tasted, confirming earlier impressions of their quality, particularly the Clos St. Jacques and Clos de Bèze), and while the ‘14s were not totally consistent, there were again some very fine wines made here. The Chambolle Veroilles (a Village-level lieu-dit) had lovely clarity, juicy fruit and was open and accessible. The Gevrey Petit Chapelle was dense, with a bright saline minerality and some nice fruit, and the Cazetiers was powerful, but with a creamy texture developing—this wine had a lot to it but will need time to develop. The Clos St. Jacques had a refined nose, and was delicate where the Cazetiers was muscular, with an elegant finish. The Bèze was dense, powerful and intense, with a lot of material, but I wasn’t entirely sure it had fully come together as yet, while the Bonnes Mares had a deeply pitched nose, power but also excellent balance, and a creaminess developing, plus a persistent mineral finish; this will be drinkable relatively early for Bonnes Mares.
Rousseau. I visited Rousseau in June, not necessarily the best time to taste, but this year, the top wines had finished malo and been racked. Things began well, with the Gevrey Village, which had a lot of material and good mineral lift. We moved somewhat rapidly up the ladder (skipping over the wines still in malo), and were treated to a fascinating tasting of two of the three components of the Clos St. Jacques, which had been separated out as an experiment. We tasted the top and middle parts (the lower part had not yet been racked), with the top showing a soaring nose and a silky texture, while the middle was purer and more minerally, with darker fruit and drier tannins. The blend was better than either alone: an immensely rich, complex nose of flowers, spice, minerals and raspberries, and pure, driven and deep on the palate, with almost grand cru weight and a superb, long finish. I even liked it slightly better than the very fine Bèze, which had deeply pitched fruit, and excellent presence and balance, if a lot of wood still—it seemed a lighter-styled Bèze. The Chambertin, though, was just amazing, with a denser nose than its stablemate, and on the palate it was pure, powerful and driven, with very silky tannins, a pure and precise wine that was one of the more impressive examples of this vintage.
De Montille. Successful reds in the Côte de Nuits. All these are 100% whole cluster. The Clos Vougeot had a nicely perfumed nose and was balanced, persistent and with good density and power, while the Vosne Malconsorts was high-toned, medium weight, structured, with dry tannins but a sense of refinement, though only a medium-length finish. The Malconsorts Cuvée Christianne was, as usual, the more complex of the two, with a cooler and deeper nose, richness and expansiveness on the palate, and dry but quite refined tannins.
Drouhin. A good range of wines here, but seemingly slightly more inconsistent than either the vintage or the capabilities of the Maison would suggest. The Chambolle 1er Cru reflected the vintage: very pretty, lots of red fruit and quite mellow, but showing a bit of acidity. The Vosne Petits Monts was fruit-forward yet dense, with a lovely mineral and fruit-inflected finish. The Clos Vougeot was showing extremely well, with a creamy texture, lovely balance and line, and real elegance; in fact, I preferred it to the Grands Echézeaux, which seemed to have only medium density but some severe tannins (perhaps from the recent bottling). Similarly, on this day I much preferred the Bonnes Mares, with its discreet nose of heather, spice, flowers and red fruit, its silky, refined palate, and its powerful mineral finish but overall sense of elegance, to the Musigny, which was lacy and refined, but didn’t seem to have quite found its equilibrium as yet.
Faiveley. Bernard Hervet rejected the vintage analogy to 2002 that some producers had offered, and also opined that north wind vintages don’t age well. He said the weather in ’14 was most similar to ’88, but that in that earlier vintage, the wines were picked too early and weren’t ripe enough. Here, as at Drouhin, I felt that the wines were patchier than I would have expected given the overall quality of the vintage and the considerable winemaking skills of the Maison (also, as at Drouhin, the Domaine wines are an important, and at least qualitatively dominant, part of the overall portfolio). The Nuits Porêts St. Georges was a crowd-pleaser, and surprisingly better than the Les St. Georges, which I found a little light. Except for the Amoureuses, which while reduced had a silky texture developing, and excellent balance and transparency, I did not find the Chambolle 1er Crus persuasive. The Gevrey Cazetiers was already drinking well, soft yet pure, with some tannins to resolve but not aggressive ones. Among the grands crus, the Echézeaux had sweet fruit, a floral touch and good density, and seemed a friendly sort of grand cru, while the Latricières-Chambertin seemed to be in a fruity style rather than displaying its usual lean minerality. The Bèze was also soft and quite fruity, with the Ouvrées Rodin seeming lighter and less interesting than it has been in prior years.
Jadot. For Jadot, this is predominantly a white wine year, and among the reds, they wisely showed few from the Côte de Beaune. As for the Côte de Nuits reds, there was a fair amount of unevenness, as the better wines tended to be soft and pleasant, accentuating approachability over energy or tension. The Vosne Suchots typified this approach—soft and sweet, crowd-pleasing but without discernable terroir, though the Beaumonts had darker fruit and more minerally punch, more structure, and some modulated tannins. The Clos St. Jacques, usually one of the highlights here, seemed slightly dilute, but the purity was evident, and it was well-balanced; if it puts on some weight, it could be a very fine wine. In one of those puzzles that occur from time to time, the Echézeaux was clearly better than the rather un-grand Grands Echézeaux, which was quite dilute. The Musigny was easy and approachable, as was the Clos St. Denis, which had some elegance–though, as with many of these wines, I felt it could use a bit more lift and acidity. Best for me today was the Bèze: with spicy bright fruit on the nose, it was soft but structured, elegant, and with a long fruit-driven finish.
Bouchard. The reds in 2014 were generally decent without being compelling (the whites were much better; see below). I did however quite enjoy the Vosne Suchots, perhaps not elegant but its rich sweet fruit making it a likely crowd-pleaser, and for early drinking. The Bonnes Mares was also very good, medium-light bodied with good ripeness, nice mineral balance, and a long finish.
Côte de Beaune
Once again, a large swath of the Côte de Beaune was plagued by hail, for the third straight year, with Meursault, Volnay, Pommard and Beaune being the hardest hit by the June 28 storm. However, while growing season conditions were hardly perfect, they were better than in ’13, and if the wines still show some of the effects of the hail—particularly dryness at the finish—there seemed to be more good wines than when the ’13s were tasted at a similar stage.
Lafarge. Michel Lafarge said that, while quantities were tiny as a result of the hail, he considered ’14 a very fine vintage, with marked differences between terroirs, and Frédéric Lafarge added that he felt they had the charm and elegance of ’66, combined with the depth and complexity of ‘78s. With all deference to these supremely talented vignerons, I found a lot of dryness at the finish of almost the entire range, which I doubt time will substantially ameliorate. That said, there was a sweet, velvety quality in the Volnay Clos du Château des Ducs, as well as a floral element, that together were quite attractive, and the Caillerets was quite minerally and transparent, and did not display the same hardness as some of the others. The Clos des Chênes had impeccable balance and purity, with a velvet texture, and despite some dryness, may in time work out quite well.
Marquis d’Angerville. While the hail ravaged most of the Domaine’s properties, the Clos des Ducs was largely spared. Overall, while hardly a great vintage at this domaine, the wines still turned out well, including a Volnay 1er cru that had strong acidity framing the sweet fruit, and only a little drying at the end; a Clos des Angles that was strongly perfumed, with appealing fruit, good balance and again, only a bit of dryness; and Caillerets, perfumed, minerally and transparent, which had a slightly hard edge but really came together at the finish. The Champans was very shut down and had a bit too much hard tannin, I thought. However, the Clos des Ducs was marvelous, with a highly perfumed nose, bright minerality, and a creamy texture; it was dense, intense, balanced and with strong but refined tannins.
Comte Armand. Paul Zinetti has now fully taken over from Benjamin Leroux, and ’14 was his first vintage on his own. He appears to be a talented and thoughtful winemaker; someone to watch, though because of the hail, he hasn’t yet been given great material to work with. The Auxey Duresses 1er Cru was very nice, with rich ripe cherry fruit that was balanced but not (as Auxey so often is) overborne by the acidity. The flagship Pommard Clos des Epeneaux suffered almost 90% losses in ’14, but what remained was light but quite charming, transparent, with some dry tannins at the end but a juiciness to it as well, and good dry extract—and the fruit persisted remarkably well.
Chandon de Briailles. Overall, losses to hail were around 30% in ’14. Claude de Nicolay compared the vintage to 2000, with the fruit up front, and soft tannins to provide easier drinking than the austere ‘13s. The Pernand Ile des Vergelesses had been racked the prior week, so was not in the best shape to taste, but still displayed a nice minerality and some bright black fruit. Best was the Corton Clos du Roi, which had some real depth and intensity, and as with most of the range, opened onto a bright, transparent finish, with mild tannins.
Michel Gaunoux. As always, the Gaunouxs eschewed [sounds like a bad cold!] barrel-tasting. We were the first to taste the ‘13s from bottle, and while it will not have escaped the attention of any reader of this blog that ’13 was not a happy vintage in the Côte de Beaune, it is a testament to the winemaking here that these wines turned out as well as they did. The Beaune Villages in particular had excellent fruit and good purity, and no sense of hail damage. And while the tannins seemed too aggressive on the Pommard Grands Epenots, they were more integrated in the Rugiens, which was spicy, dense and transparent. The Corton Renardes was very well made, with a pure minerality but also enough dark fruit to balance, and excellent weight and persistence.
Other Côte de Beaune Reds: As in the prior year, many fine domaines and negociants struggled valiantly to produce decent wines in a difficult year. There are many wines in my notes that can best be described as “not bad,” however, rather than review a large number of wines whose inevitable shortcomings reflect the vagaries of the growing season, I have selected here a handful of other Côte de Beaune reds that I thought turned out especially well in ’14: While it is perhaps not fair to include it, as it escaped hail damage, Faiveley’s Corton Clos des Cortons Faiveley is a clear success: a forward and fruity style of Clos des Cortons, but with power in reserve. Bernard Moreau’s Chassagne Rouge 1er Cru La Cardeuse (a monopole) also benefitted from being outside the hail zone, and had deep fruit and a spicy floral nose, good purity, minerality and balance, though the somewhat rustic tannins gave away the wine’s origins. Also, Bouchard’s Savigny Les Lavières was soft and spicy, with nice ripeness and a mineral touch; though perhaps a touch acidic on the finish, it would be excellent with food.
As discussed at the outset of this article, the 2014 whites, particularly from Puligny and Chassagne, are quite special. They are pure and precise, and have a balance and tension that suggests long life—if premox doesn’t claim them first.
As an aside, while there are few notes below on Chablis, this was also an excellent vintage there, as a tasting at Raveneau in June (described below) confirmed.
Leflaive. Leflaive is back on form in ’14. Whether this is a temporary or longer-term development, obviously only time will tell, but it has been painful to watch in recent years as bottles such as ’05 Montrachet and ’07 Bâtard were claimed by premox, and even more painful to taste any of the disastrous ‘06s made here. In any event, on a much happier note, the ‘14s are delicate and elegant, yet retain a core of pure minerality and excellent tension and equilibrium. The quality parade began early, with a pure, floral, minerally Puligny Villages; while the Clavoillons was a little square, the Folatières was especially fine: delicate and lacy, elegant and pure. The Pucelles was terrific: pure, fine, with great balance, energy and tension, and very dense and coiled still. For the Bienvenues-Bâtard, sweetness and harmony reigned, and delicacy returned, though this still had some tension at the end. The Bâtard had more power, but was in a more elegant and delicate style for Bâtard; it was very good, though I thought the match of style and terroir was more interesting in the Bienvenues. The Chevalier was in the tradition of great Leflaive Chevaliers of the past: deeply pitched minerality on the nose, a floral note, with incredible refinement on the palate, pure, balanced, but with excellent tension.
François Carillon. I am a big fan of François’ wines, though with the cautionary note that they may still need to be drunk on the young side because of susceptibility to premox. He made some excellent ‘14s, including a pure, spicy and intensely stony Puligny Villages, a very floral Puligny ChampGains, with excellent balance and structure; a serious and reserved Folatières, with plenty of dry extract and excellent tension and concentration, and a more elegant and reserved Puligny Perrières, with a powerful pure mineral finish packed with extract. François now also has a small quantity of Chevalier, from purchased grapes, which while elegant and with great tonality and balance, doesn’t come up to the level of its Leflaive counterpart.
Roulot. Hats off to Jean-Marc Roulot, who despite the ravages of the June 28 hailstorm in Meursault (overall, 50-60% of the domaine’s crop was lost), managed to make some remarkably fine ’14s. The Bourgogne Blanc, which usually delivers excellent value, was spicy, creamy and minerally. What amazed, though, was the Meursault Luchets, a Village-level wine with a gorgeous nose of crème patissière, anise and white flowers, an elegant wine with a creamy texture and all in harmony. The Meursault Tessons was almost as good, with a deeply pitched nose, excellent volume, plus complexity and balance. Among the 1er crus, the Clos des Bouchères, while not necessarily more dense than the Tessons, had a lovely equilibrium, while the Charmes was quite forceful and precise, with a resolved, very long minerally finish. The Perrières was absolutely brilliant, with a spicy, mineral-driven nose, impressive texture and volume and great energy, precision and complexity.
Roulot also began a negociant business in ’14, and we tasted a very transparent, powerful and intense Corton Charlemagne, and a Puligny Caillerets that had a satiny texture and good equilibrium, if slightly aggressive acidity, but also a Chevalier-Montrachet that was not showing particularly well at this point.
Buisson-Charles. I first tasted here last summer, and the quality drew us back for a Fall visit. There is an excellent Meursault Vieilles Vignes, from vines in eight different plots that are between 60 and 110 years old, which had a spicy, deep minerality, good weight and intensity, and a nice floral note, if a slightly dry finish. The Meursault Tessons had a pure minerality, sweet fruit and a lot of charm, while the Puligny Cailleret had a discreet nose, balancing fruit and a floral quality on the palate with strong minerality, and a very long finish. The Meursault Charmes (from the upper part, near Perrières) showed a very minerally character and was pure and rich with quite a lot of complexity to it, if a slight hardness at the end. We also tasted some excellent 2013s, including the Meursault VV, an excellent Meursault Goutte d’Or, and a particularly fine Meursault Bouchères, which was very pure, juicy, balanced and long.
Latour-Giraud. Jean-Pierre Latour described ’14 as, first of all, a very concentrated vintage (yields were down 60% because of the hail), but also very pure, with lots of fruit but also lots of energy. He said the vintage was evolving slowly, and would not be easy for everyone to understand, but he thinks it is a very great vintage, though patience will be required. I thought the wines showed best at the upper end, with the Genevrières not yet entirely knit, but having the elements to make something special; the Perrières was very harmonious, with richness, balance and completeness; and the Genevrières Cuvée des Pierre, with a nose of spice wrapped in flowers, a creamy texture, and bright acidity, had almost Montrachet-like weight, yet still retained its elegance and finesse.
De Montille/Ch. de Puligny-Montrachet/Domaine Deux Montille. Brian Sieve, the chef de cave, thinks this will be the best white wine vintage in decades. Among the standouts here was a St. Aubin En Remilly, an easy wine but with an acidity that keeps it lively; a Puligny Folatières that, despite a touch of funk on the nose, was a very pretty mix of spice, citrus, minerals and flowers, all supported by an excellent frame of acidity; a very fine Meursault Perrières, with great stony character and purity in the middle; and a particularly outstanding Corton-Charlemagne, which was nicely balanced, with rich sweet fruit, precise minerality, great balance and presence, and excellent length.
Bernard Moreau. Alexandre Moreau called ’14 the best vintage in his 20 years of experience, admiring it for purity, freshness and structure. These are consistently well-made whites, though I found them a bit clenched on this visit, with the acidity strongly in evidence–perhaps reflective of Jean-Pierre Latour’s comments about how slowly the wines of this vintage are evolving. Among the 1er crus, I liked the Chenevottes, with racy acidity and sweet fruit coming up in the middle; Morgeot, which was balanced and structured, with good lift; and the Grand Ruchottes, with the most complex nose of the 1ers, an oriental spice component, powerful and pure, with a lot of bright acidity. The Bâtard was minerally and intense, with a floral finish, and clearly needs time to develop, and I particularly liked the Chevalier, which was very minerally but well balanced, with a creamy floral quality to it and a very long finish.
Paul Pillot. The Domaine made a number of really fine whites in ’14. The St. Aubin Charmois was penetrating, transparent but with enough flesh to cover. The Chassagne 1er Cru Grand Montagne was pleasing if not exactly elegant, but the Caillerets that followed it had good flesh on the pure mineral bones, with excellent balance and line, and impressive precision. The Grands Ruchottes was richer and creamier, but with an excellent purity to it, though I slightly preferred the style of the Caillerets. The La Romanée was extremely pure and transparent, and had real finesse; it was still developing but had huge potential and was starting to show a creamy texture.
Raveneau. I tasted here in June. Bernard Raveneau noted that many growers had, in his view, picked too early in 2014, because they still had memories of 2013, where waiting had produced disaster. He called the quality “medium-plus”, the style “classic” and found it similar to the ‘95s. The lower level wines were marginally disappointing, but things brightened considerably once we reached the Vaillons, a classic, balanced wine with power and length. The Butteaux was even better, with a creamy texture, great balance, and a long flinty finish (Bernard said it was “almost at the limit of austerity”). The Montée de Tonnerre had a creamier texture than the Butteaux, with a pretty floral quality as well as lots of spice. The best of the 1er crus, though, was easily the Chapelots, with a discreet but balanced and complex nose, sweet spicy pears on entry, and great line, cut, purity and length. Bernard noted that the Chapelots typically shows more fruit and less power than the Montée de Tonnerre. The Blanchots clearly had much more volume than the 1er crus, a strong, knife-edged steeliness, power and intensity, but seemed a bit alcoholic and unbalanced, so Bernard sampled another barrel, which was far more floral, cleaner and purer, less aggressive, more refined, still steely but with a balancing floral element and a long spicy finish with some dry tannins at the end. The Valmur was my favorite, superb by any measure, incredibly elegant and pure, with deep minerality, a creaminess to it, and an exceptionally long finish. The Clos was also very fine but very different, with more acidity showing and a more iron-filings minerality, very powerful and intense; this will need many years to unfold and should keep for a very long time.
Bouchard. There was quite an excellent range of William Fèvre Chablis this year, starting with a very chalky and reserved, but promising, Bougros Côte Bouguerots and, in contrast, a sneakily seductive, floral Vaudésir. The Valmur was quite fine, with much more body and sweet fruit than the prior grands crus, but was very balanced, minerally and long. Best of all was Les Clos, which was restrained and in need of more time, but already complex, balanced and light on its feet despite its weight, with a long, elegant finish. Among the Côte de Beaune whites, the Puligny Champs Gain and Combettes made a nice pair, the former with prim white flowers, peaches and a nice mineral balance, and the latter with more acidity and intensity, good precision and a long floral, citric finish that was very compelling. The Chevalier La Cabotte had a lot of dry extract, but also a lot of acidity that seemed a bit aggressive. The Montrachet, however, was superb, with an elegant, delicate nose that seemed almost more Chevy than Monty, plus incredible balance, elegance and lift–this really epitomized power without weight, and had a finish that was still going after 2 minutes!
Drouhin. Véronique Drouhin, with her long experience and characteristic honesty, offered a small corrective to the enthusiasm shown by many growers for the whites, noting that while it was an excellent white wine vintage, it was in her view a bit much to place it among the very best. Nonetheless, there were some excellent whites produced by Drouhin in ’14. The Village Chassagne was quite attractive, a crowd-pleaser with its sweet fruit and spice balanced by good minerality. The Chassagne Morgeots was also very good, concentrated and intense, with good focus, and the Puligny Folatières was even better, with excellent weight, creaminess and great balance, a charming wine with a precise mineral finish. The Corton-Charlemagne was in a lovely creamy style, well balanced, not perhaps for connoisseurs of CC minerality but sure to be a crowd-pleaser. The Montrachet Marquis de la Guiche had strong lift, spice with silk developing, and was coiled, vibrant and intense, with clearly a lot of development ahead—this should be extremely good with time.
Faiveley. The whites were quite charming here, beginning with a racy Meursault Charmes, and a fruity and spicy Puligny Folatières—not classically structured but very attractive. The Bienvenues-Bâtard had power, racy acidity but plenty of sweet fruit–not profound but highly enjoyable–and the Bâtard was deeper-pitched than the BBM, but without the gorgeous spice and flowers of the latter. The Corton-Charlemagne was the best of the range: pure, a minerally CC (which I prefer), but with good fruit, precision and energy.
Jadot. An attractive range of whites here. The Puligny Combettes had a great nose of spice and white flowers and was well balanced; the Puligny Clos de la Garenne had lovely peachy fruit balanced with positive acidity; and the Puligny Caillerets had a deep nose of near-grand cru quality and was large-framed and balanced on the palate. The Bâtard was particularly good, powerful with sweet fruit, white flowers and cream; and although the usually fine Chevalier Demoiselles seemed a little out of sorts, the Corton-Charlemagne was charming and had a penetrating mineral finish. The Montrachet was particularly fine, very dense with great energy and tension.
Other Whites. The following are whites from predominantly red-wine focused Domaines that impressed: a fine Bourgogne Aligoté from Comte Armand, with more sweetness and white flowers than usual and a nice spiciness; an excellent Corton Blanc from Chandon de Briailles, with a Poire Williams nose, low acidity, lacking grand cru weight but also not as ponderous as Corton Blanc can be—a fine summer white; the first Pulignys from Dujac: a Folatières that was pleasant but no better, but then a Combettes that was really quite beautiful, with a floral, creamy and citric nose, showing vibrant minerality but very balanced, and spicy at the end; a floral, balanced Nuits Clos des Grands Vignes Blanc from Comte Liger-Belair; a pleasant Bourgogne Haut Côte de Nuits Clos St Philibert from Méo-Camuzet, with good fruit and excellent tension; a Meursault Tillets with positive acidity, excellent balance and good purity from Francois Labet of Ch. de la Tour; and to finish, a huge, powerful, intense and extremely long Montrachet, with a potentially great future, from Ponsot.
© 2016 Douglas E. Barzelay
If I had to sum up the 2013 vintage in a phrase, it would be “it’s complicated.” Any generalizations about this difficult vintage are bound to miss the mark to some degree. The growing season oscillated between extremes, and so do the resulting wines: hail damage severely reduced the crop, and affected the quality as well, in Volnay, Pommard, Beaune and Savigny, but the crop had already been substantially reduced across the Côte d’Or by a cold and rainy spring and a late and uneven flowering. While much of July and August were warm and sunny, the vintage was one of the latest in recent times, with most growers not picking until October. October, however, saw some significant rainfall, and botrytis began to affect the vineyards, albeit after most of the picking was done.
The resulting wines seem to fall into several categories:
–the Côte de Beaune reds from vineyards that suffered hail damage, which are only rarely successful, typically exhibiting very dry tannins and in some instances a pruney character;
–Red and White wines in both Côtes that are slightly underripe, and exhibit an excess of acidity (and in many reds, an excess of hard tannins as well);
–Whites from the Côte de Beaune, and reds from the Côte de Nuits, that are sweet, easy and approachable; and
–more serious reds from the Côte de Nuits (and some Côte de Beaune whites) that are precise, structured and well-balanced, with charming fruit.
In the Côte de Nuits, the most successful villages seem to be Gevrey-Chambertin (which according to Bernard Hervet received significantly less rainfall than its neighbors) and Chambolle-Musigny, and within Chambolle, a special nod has to go to a cohort of stunning Amoureuses. As in many vintages where ripeness is an issue, as a generalization the Grands Crus were more successful than the Premiers Crus and the Premiers more successful than the Villages wines. However, exceptions abound.
One of the best and most honest growers in Burgundy (who produced some of the top wines of this vintage) said that while 2013 is a good vintage, and he is very pleased with the quality of his wines, no one should mistake it for a great vintage. I would underscore his remarks, both because I agree with them, and because there is already starting to be commentary—there will be more—that either hypes this vintage beyond what it can bear, or dismisses it entirely. Both extremes can find examples to support their views, but the truth is considerably more complex. Indeed, if this is a winemaker’s vintage—and it is—it is also a Burg geek’s vintage, because those who take the time to poke beneath the surface will in time be rewarded with some very fine drinking experiences.
A Few Comments: Everyone wants a brief headline and definitive answer as to whether the vintage is great, and whether a particular wine, or producer’s range of wines, is great (as a friend recently wrote to me: “are the ‘12s really great and should I buy whatever I can get my hands on, or should I skip it?”). The answer is rarely so simple—especially in Burgundy. This is particularly true when the information you have is gleaned from barrel tastings. As I have written before, one gets a brief moment to taste a particular wine at a particular stage of its development, on a particular day, and from that is expected to make a judgment about how that wine will taste many years later. While several weeks of tasting at the right time (and November after the vintage is usually one of the best times) can give a fairly good picture of the vintage overall (with the caveat that vintages can take unexpected turns in their development), and pinpoint many of the success and failures, inevitably there are vagaries to tasting specific wines, which may depend on ambient temperature, barometric pressure, treatments or lack thereof, whether the sample is representative (is it from an old barrel in a Cuvée that is going to be 80% new oak?), how recently the wine finished malo, or was racked, and other factors (the bio guys, of course, would tell you it’s also a matter of whether its a root day, or fruit day, or whatever, but that’s a different story). When a vintage is difficult, like 2013, it simply exacerbates the problem of knowing whether what you are tasting on a particular day is truly representative. Since I don’t get paid for my views and therefore don’t need to pretend to omniscience, I want to be very clear that this is an extremely complex vintage to taste, with results that are all over the map, and it is likely that some wines will turn out better—and some worse—than predicted.
Finally, while I have commented overall on the ranges of the various domaines, I have only focused in detail on the wines I liked; if this report were to include every wine tasted, it would bore even the writer. However, the reader should keep in mind that we taste most if not all of the range at the individual domaines, and a large sample at the negociants, so that if in a particular case the list of recommended wines is shorter than normal, it is a reflection of the difficulties of this vintage and the need for care in selection.
Côte de Nuits
As the sweet spots for this vintage seem to have been Gevrey and Chambolle, lets start there:
Roumier: Unfortunately, our appointment had to be moved up by several days, and so we arrived shortly after most of the wines had been racked. Nonetheless, this range is a brilliant success (it didn’t hurt that most of Christophe’s holdings are in the two villages that were the most successful in ’13), with several being among the best wines I tasted on this trip. Christophe’s view of the vintage is that it shows good terroir, and that he likes the freshness of the vintage, but that the wines don’t have the same complexity as the ‘12s. He sees them as ‘friendly” wines, but not long-distance runners. The Chambolle Village was delicious—spicy, generous and charming—and the Chambolle Les Cras was also a winner: showing strawberry fruit on the nose, it was medium weight, minerally, pure and complex. The Charmes-Chambertin had a curious bell pepper note in the nose, which might be an artifact of the recent racking, and a delicacy in the back palate that I don’t tend to associate with Charmes (but like), while the Ruchottes had great perfume in the nose and persistence, purity, even elegance for Ruchottes. The Bonnes Mares, despite its recent racking, showed off a deep nose of red fruit and minerals, and was balanced and transparent, with the tannins more prominent than in the other wines in this range. The Amoureuses outshone it though, with intense spice and complex fruit on the nose; it was delicate, elegant and pure, with refined tannins and some silkiness in the finish. Lastly, the Musigny, which was the only wine not yet racked, had lovely red fruit, spice and the characteristic citrus note, the new oak not yet fully integrated, but with a long, silky, refined finish.
We also tasted the range of 2012s here, including a Chambolle Village whose weight and density—not to mention balance and complexity—made it more like a 1er Cru (91); a pure, long Chambolle Les Cras, with suave tannins (92); a very fine Ruchottes, extremely dense and complex with ripe red fruit and a long pure finish (94); and a Bonnes Mares that seemed to be shutting down (92+?). The Chambolle Amoureuses had ultra-refined fruit, density and an amazing tension in the wine—the epitome of purity and refinement (95); while the Musigny, with a rich nose, great balance, plummy fruit, was still a baby but there is great depth and purity on the extremely long finish and this will surely evolve into a great wine (95+).
Mugnier: though the tasting started a little slowly, the quality eventually began to shine through at the upper levels. Nonetheless, these are not a match for Freddy’s beautiful 2012s, which we tasted from bottle. Freddy noted that the vegetative cycle in 2013 was the longest he’s ever seen, but that it allowed the grapes to achieve phenolic ripeness. He said that the tannins had a rich texture to them, which was unexpected in such a late vintage. He also, as did others, noted that toward the very end of the harvest, botrytis had come on quite suddenly and rapidly: there was none before October 5th in Chambolle, but by the 8th it had become explosive. In his view, the ‘13s are tight and precise, and will need some bottle age to show their best. His Chambolle Village seemed a bit on the lean side, without the brightness or fruit of Roumier’s, but the Chambolle Fuées was a considerable step up, with great fruit on the palate and a cool minerality, a silky texture and a transparent minerally finish. The Amoureuses was superb, with a complex nose of cherries and strawberries plus minerals; it was light, elegant, and silky, with a spicy mineral finish, great length and very refined tannins. The Musigny was also extremely fine, with a complex nose of licorice, currants, strawberries and citrus; it is dense, pure and powerful, with a touch of salinity and powerful but refined tannins.
We then tasted the ‘12s, which Freddy described as a bit closed and austere at the moment. Notwithstanding this caveat, the Chambolle Village had beautiful sweet ripe red fruit and a touch of brown sugar on the nose; while a bit light on entry, it had lovely sweet red fruit and spice on the palate (91). The Chambolle Fuées was very balanced with excellent spice notes and a silky texture (92), while the Chambolle Amoureuses, despite being a bit austere, had great purity, a lovely texture and a delicate spicy finish—this wine is just hinting at greater things to come (95). The Musigny had deep fruit and citrus on the nose, and was very intense, deeply minerally, with red fruit in the back; its power is in evidence, backed by some significant, if refined, tannins, but the finish opens to amazing length, purity and refinement (95+).
Ghislaine Barthod: It is a treat to taste here, as one gets an excellent lesson in terroir. The domaine vinifies 9 different 1er Crus in Chambolle, and it is not hard to see the differences as one moves from one to another. The range overall was very well-crafted, and while some wines reflected the more problematic elements of the vintage (too much acidity and tannin for the fruit and a resulting lack of balance), the best are very fine examples, from a village that was one of the standouts in 2013. I particularly liked the Chambolle Gruenchers, with a light, mineral-driven nose and a spicy and charming palate with open berry fruit and good length; the Chambolle Fuées, which had bright deep cherry fruit on the nose, a penetrating minerality on the palate, and a touch of what Ghislaine described as “bitter orange zest”–overall a wine with a lot of material, and a transparent and persistent finish; and the Chambolle Les Cras, where you could sense the greater density even on the nose, but also some lovely sweet fruit, a touch of new oak, excellent concentration and length.
Francois Bertheau: relatively small quantities again in 2013, but at least there is some Bonnes Mares, unlike in 2012 when there was almost none. The elfin Francois Berthaud is a true Burgundian character, who only sees visitors after 5 pm, when he returns on his tractor from the vineyards (“where else would I be”? he says). The range is small, but he makes seriously good wines here—not quite at the Roumier or Mugnier level, but still excellent examples. The Chambolle Village had charming and easy sweet fruit flavors, while the Chambolle 1er Cru had a nice floral touch to the nose, with currants, citrus and cherries; it had a nice medium weight and good balance, if slight dryness at the finish. The Chambolle Charmes had more material than the 1er Cru but less charm (!), at least at the moment. The Chambolle Amoureuses was yet another fine example from this vineyard, with an intense nose of complex fruit (currants, cherries, etc), deep spice, good lift and not too much acidity, and a long finish developing some silk. The Bonnes Mares was even better, with soft but complex fruit, excellent density, a dry and spicy finish, some oak spice (25% new oak), and also a silky texture.
Bruno Clair: I generally like the wines here quite a bit, so was disappointed when the tasting began, as we worked our way through the Village and lower Premier Crus, all of which showed to some degree or another the characteristic high acidity and/or strong tannins of the vintage. However, the Cazetiers was a significant step up, and the Clos St. Jacques and Clos de Bèze were both brilliant examples, outstanding successes in this vintage. Among the 1er Crus, the Savigny Les Dominodes, with rich red fruit balanced by minerality, had some strong tannins but should be very good in time, while the Gevrey Cazetiers, as noted, was excellent, with a rich nose of red fruit and meats; on the palate it was transparent, with tannins that were not harsh and that dissolved into the pure minerally finish. The Clos St. Jacques had a nose bursting with intense ripe fruit, and amazing richness; on the palate it was pure and intense, with a bright minerally finish and silky refined tannins. The Clos de Bèze had a gorgeous perfumed nose, with delicacy and refinement; on the palate, the power was evident, as was the intensity, and there was a rich fruit finish, with spice, minerals, silk, and refined tannins. Superb wine! The Bonnes Mares was a slight letdown after the Bèze: despite a mysterious and beguiling nose, the tannins seemed more evident and dominant here.
To contrast the vintages, we then tasted the 2012 Gevrey Cazetiers and Clos St. Jacques. Though Philippe Brun warned that the ‘12s were closing up a bit, both still showed extremely well. The Cazetiers had sweet, almost candied fruit on the nose; while it lightened up on the palate slightly, it still had excellent balance and transparency, and the tannins seemed suppressed on the long minerally finish (93). The Clos St. Jacques had exceptional bright ripe fruit and a hint of brown sugar on the nose; on the palate it was succulent, spicy, of medium weight, and had excellent finesse; there was a touch of tannin here but also a sense of refinement (94). Here I felt that the ‘13s of these particular wines might stand up to the ‘12s, though the range overall was not at the level of its older sibling, as tasted last year.
Trapet: This tasting ran considerably over its allotted time, as both Jean-Louis and his father Jean were in expansive moods, and we were delighted to listen—and to taste the 1955 Chambertin! And while Jean-Louis certainly has many years ahead of him, the succession seems assured as his son, who is now part of the team, joined the tasting as well. Overall, while some of the lower-level wines were not entirely persuasive, the top-level wines showed extremely well. While I prefer the ‘12s here (as at most addresses where we were able to taste side-by-side), the Latricières and the Chambertin are no slouches in ’13. (Note there was no Gevrey 1er Cru Capita in 2013, as Jean-Louis only makes this wine when he feels that 100% whole cluster is warranted.) The Gevrey L’Ostrea was slightly reduced but one could still see the excellent balance of sweet red fruit and minerality, a slight saline touch, some black pepper, and a very nice medium weight, and neither the tannins nor the oak were overbearing. The Chapelle-Chambertin had great minerality, and the touch of reduction did not obscure the excellent weight and balance here; it had a high-toned and very long finish as well. The Latricières had great depth of spice on the nose, and minerality. On the palate, the wine was well balanced, with purity, power and drive; there is a fair amount of tannin here but also a lot of deep red fruit on the finish. The Chambertin was also somewhat reduced, but had lovely purity, red fruit, spice and black pepper notes, together with an intense minerality on the palate; the tannins here are strong but suave, and some great spice and roast meat flavors come up on the immensely long finish.
We also tasted several 2012s here. The Gevrey Ostrea had very nice blueberry fruit on the nose and palate, excellent weight, good power, and some strong tannins after (91). The Latricières-Chamberin had an exotic fruit nose, great minerality, smoked meats, slate, and black pepper; it was powerful, balanced, and had silky tannins (93-94). The Chambertin had a subtle nose, while the palate exuded a sense of calm and transparency; this is a self-assured wine with silky tannins and excellent length (95).
DRC: Aubert de Villaine said he was very pleased with the quality of his ‘13s, and a couple of reliable sources said that, in the weeks before our visit, the wines were showing superbly well. However, as Bertrand de Villaine noted, there had been heavy rains two days before our visit, which had briefly flooded the cellar, and he found many of the wines unsettled on the day of our visit. So did I. While the Romanée-Conti showed just how superb the vintage here could be, the other wines, particularly the Richebourg and Grands Echézeaux, seemed in varying degrees to lack harmony. I can only report on what I saw on the particular day, but hopefully a subsequent visit may yield a different result.
That said, there was a nice spicy quality and excellent purity to the Corton, and I think the Domaine has acted wisely in moving to a majority of one-year old barrels for the elevage of this wine. The Romanée-St.-Vivant was also showing some amazing spice on the nose; it is a powerful RSV with a long, spicy, well-delineated finish and amazing persistence. La Tâche had exotic spices on the nose; it was intensely concentrated, with strong acidity, but at least today the fruit seemed a bit figgy. This needs to be revisited. The Romanée-Conti, on the other hand, needs to be revisited for other reasons: it was simply superb, with an amazing nose of spice, red fruits, baked bread and what Aubert calls the “little touch of green” that turns eventually to rose petal; it was elegant and concentrated on the palate, but the real fireworks were on the finish: super-smooth, nothing out of place, serene and refined, and almost endless. Simply amazing wine.
Liger-Belair: While these wines do not seem destined to challenge the brilliant 2012s at this estate, they are overall very fine wines, with a large proportion of successes in this difficult vintage. One of the top addresses for 2013s, even without wines in Gevrey.
Normally I prefer the Vosne Clos du Château to the Colombière, but this year it was the reverse: the Colombière had rich fruit supported by excellent acidity, and was soft and balanced. I also particularly liked the Vosne Suchots, with its rich nose, sweet fruit, citrus touch and great transparency; the Vosne Brulées, which had a nose with great fruit and purity and a seductive smoky note, while on the palate there was sweet fruit, a bit of oak but some silky softness and a long pure fruit finish. The Nuits Clos des Grands Vignes (for you geeks out there, this is the only 1er Cru in the Côte de Nuits that is east of the D974, and it is also a monopole, helping give Liger-Belair the distinction of being the only producer with Monopoles in Village, 1er Cru and Grand Cru) had soft red fruit, touches of earth and spice, and excellent balance—a very well-crafted wine. The Vosne Reignots was a bit too gassy to evaluate fully, but seemed to have a lot of density. The Echézeaux was spicy, with excellent soft red fruit, a lighter style wine but had lovely balance and transparency, with some strong tannins at the end but also a lot of fruit and good minerality and persistence. La Romanée was quite dense, with crushed berry fruit on the nose, a lot of acidity, great richness and power, and glycerine at the end, with the tannins possibly a bit aggressive at the moment but still evolving, and it had an extremely long finish showing good refinement.
We tasted two 2012s: the Vosne Reignots, with sweet crushed raspberries, excellent weight and balance, there is huge material here but the wine still needs to eat the oak (93+); and the Echézeaux, showing intense fruit and minerality, and a creamy touch; it is structured, juicy, with great balance and length and certainly far more density than the ’13, charming as that wine is (94+).
Anne Gros: all of these wines seem to have been made in a light, fruity style, including the Richebourg, which had the weight of a Village-level wine and no discernable Richebourg terroir. What has happened at this domaine is a mystery to me. In the ‘90s, Anne Gros was making terrific wines, and her Richebourg was a consistent standout among its peers. As one observer speculated, she seems to have decided to rest on her laurels, and turned her attention elsewhere, with depressing results. What a waste!
Mugneret-Gibourg: Brilliantly successful wines in ’13, the best of which seem effortless. As is true almost everywhere, there is some inconsistency in the range, but the best—including a particularly fine Bourgogne, which has more to it than Anne Gros’ Richebourg—are well worth finding and cellaring, and will likely be approachable in the near term but hold well.
The tasting began auspiciously with the Bourgogne, which had a spicy beeswax note, a lot of soft red fruit, a bit of acidity after but a silkiness-really a remarkable Bourgogne. The Nuits Village was also extremely charming, with great typicity, earthy, spicy and sweet. The Nuits Chaignots had intense black fruit and earth, and was silky and balanced, though with a bit of a dry finish; certainly the acidity and tannins were not hidden, but it was a nice wine nonetheless. The Chambolle Feusselottes (some day, I may learn to spell Feusselottes without looking it up, but I doubt it) was a real standout, with gorgeous bright red fruit on the nose and palate, excellent lift, balance and transparency. (Underscoring the vagaries of tasting, Marie-Andrée commented that a week earlier, this wine had been totally closed down.) The Ruchottes-Chambertin was spicy, meaty, open and rich, with medium weight and a gorgeous spicy strawberry finish, the tannins a bit dry but not overly so. The Echézeaux had plenty to enjoy but seemed also to have some dried herbs and drier tannins in back, and Marie-Andrée commented that this was a bit too concentrated (at 17-18hl/ha) to be a normal expression of Echézeaux. The Clos Vougeot was open-knit and had complex red fruit on the palate, a touch of clove and gingerbread, but also a hint of something a little out of place, appleskin perhaps, with some dry tannins; judgment deferred.
The 2012 Grands Crus seemed a bit shut down (or not quite showing the promise they did a year ago), but the Nuits Chaignots had a nice stony nose and a layer of sweet red fruit to accompany its minerality and earthiness; this was still carrying a fair amount of tannin but it seemed likely to modulate in time (91). The Chambolle Feusselottes had subdued red fruit and spice, plus a creamy element, on the nose, and spice cake, minerals, and red fruit on an excellent transparent palate and finish (92).
Méo-Camuzet: while a number of these wines were reduced and not easy to read definitively, there are some very fine 2013s at this address. However, care in choosing among the 2013s is advisable, as at most domaines with a broad range of appellations.
I liked both the Nuits Meurgers, which had excellent balance, medium body, and a long minerally finish, and the Nuits Boudots, with had much richer fruit than the Meurgers and was more dense and concentrated, though perhaps a bit heavier in comparison. Both the Clos Vougeot and the Corton Clos Rognets seemed to be in the charming, easy style of many wines of this vintage, while the Echézeaux, despite heavy reduction, seemed elegant and possessed of a long finish with great lift. The Vosne Brulées was more brooding, with power and presence, and a tight structure. The best wines here were the Vosne Cros Parantoux, which despite only recently finishing malo displayed a spicy, cool fruit nose, sweet raspberries on the palate, tight structure and power, with an intense mineral finish of great breed; and the Richebourg, which was powerful, spicy, open and rich, a bit forward even, but with a lot to it.
The 2012 Nuits Boudots, opened several days earlier, had a rich fruit nose and a touch of brown sugar, and was distinctly sweet but enjoyable (90), while the 2012 Clos Vougeot, opened on the spot, was very ripe and rich, with black currants, licorice, black pepper, and a touch of brown sugar; it had a lot of power and richness, with medium, refined tannins and excellent length, and was distinctly superior to the 2013 version (92-93).
Grivot: Etienne’s wines have reached a new plateau of quality in recent years, and despite the difficulties of the vintage, there are some significant successes here. The Village-level wines were well-crafted, including a Nuits Charmois that had charming sweet fruit, a touch of salinity, and little tannin in evidence, and a Chambolle Combe d’Orveaux, with black cherry fruit, good energy and transparency. With the 1er Crus, Etienne announced that he had decided to act on someone’s advice and show the Vosne 1ers before the Nuits 1ers, the idea being that it would show that the Nuits 1ers were fully at the level of their Vosne counterparts. The only problem with this theory is that, good as the Nuits 1ers were, they were not fully at the level of the Vosne 1ers—and if you believe in terroir, there’s a ready explanation for that. I did quite like the Nuits Pruliers, an earthy, charming crowd-pleaser with good weight, and the Nuits Boudots, much more structured though with plenty of sweet strawberry fruit, if some strong tannins. Nevertheless they were not a match for the Vosne Brulées, with its bright sweet fruit, spiciness, smoky edge and mineral balance, a very fine wine just getting the edge over the Méo version, or the Vosne Reignots, with amazing depth of fruit on the nose, deep spice, soy, great balance and beautiful transparency on the finish. The Vosne Suchots was also good, though perhaps a bit heavy in comparison, while the Echézeaux seemed pleasant, approachable, but a bit lacking in focus. The Clos Vougeot was better, tending toward the sweet and supple for Clos Vougeot (and especially for Grivot’s typically brooding style of CV), with a touch of brown sugar and wild herbs. Best was the Richebourg, which had an intensely minerally nose that was calm and deep; on the palate, it had classic Richebourg structure, power and weight, and wonderful purity; on the finish, the tannins are a bit strong and the back end seems to need time to develop, but I’d be willing to bet on this wine.
Etienne thinks that 2012 may be his greatest vintage, combining drinkability, energy and balance, but not all of the wines we tasted on this day were showing at their best—possibly they have begun to shut down, as a number of ‘12s have–for example a Vosne Beaumonts that was still reduced in bottle, and an Echézeaux that had excellent energy and refinement, but also a slight caramel hint that intruded on the finish (90). Much better were the Clos Vougeot, which had great weight and intensity but avoided heaviness (91), a Nuits Boudots that had a sweet creamy entry, and was earthy, spicy, generous and balanced (92), and a powerful, minerally and pure Richebourg, with some SO2 that slightly suppressed the fruit for now, but with a lovely silky mineral finish and refined tannins (93+).
Sylvain Cathiard: The young, self-effacing Sébastien Cathiard is slowly improving the quality here (which is not to say his father’s wines were less than very good, though sometimes marred by an excess of high toast new oak). Sébastien described 2013 as having higher acidity than 2012, but being drinkable earlier—fruity, fat, forward, fun was how he described the ‘13s. Nonetheless, some of his wines are more than that, I think. The Bourgogne and the Village wines were all good, though I think the oak treatment still mars these a bit. Things ramped up significantly with the 1er Crus, including a Nuits Aux Thoreys that had deeply pitched red fruit, excellent minerality, drive, and an almost silky touch; Nuits Meurgers, with a beautiful red fruit nose, quite earthy, with more tannin than the Thoreys but also more body and more silk– today the Thoreys is more pleasurable but it will be interesting to see what happens with time; Vosne En Orveaux, with beautiful cherry fruit, spice, a pure minerality and an appealing finish (Sébastien commented that this seemed almost more Chambolle than Vosne) and a stunning Vosne Malconsorts, with deeply pitched fruit on the nose, a silky middle, excellent transparency and silky tannins. The sole Grand Cru here, the Romanée-St.-Vivant, was clearly a very elegant wine, though the nose seemed reticent and the oak a bit strong; nonetheless it had great balance and promises well. The 2012s we tasted included a surprisingly good Bourgogne (surprising in that it had been opened several days earlier, but still had beautiful bright fruit and spice, and was well-knit (90), a Vosne Village marred by too much oak on the nose (86), and a Nuits Meurgers which despite a touch of hardness had a lot of appealing sweet fruit, hints of spice, earth, and good density (92).
Hudelot-Noellat: here as elsewhere, things got progressively more exciting as one mounted the “ladder.” The top 1er Crus and Grand Crus are very fine wines, and Charles van Canneyt is one of the young winemakers of the Côte d’Or to watch.
Among the 1er Crus, the Nuits Meurgers had a beautiful nose of dark cherries and spice and despite a touch of reduction on the palate it was minerally and very long with the tannins in check. The Vosne Beaumonts also displayed a nose of great purity, and it was transparent and minerally on the palate as well, with a light charming finish and some dry tannins but they should modulate in time. The Vosne Suchots had more power and concentration than the Beaumonts but seemed less well-knit, at least for now, while the Vosne Malconsorts, which had undergone a very late malo, was a bit hard to read but seemed to have great transparency, power, lift and structure, some slightly fiery tannins leading to a very long and very pure finish—this too needs time but appears to have a great future. The Clos Vougeot was showing really well, with great balance, structure and finesse and powerful but refined tannins. The RSV had huge spice, a hint of woodsmoke, and black cherries on the nose; it seemed more delicate than the Clos Vougeot, and not quite as integrated, but the tannins were refined. The Richebourg had a pretty, open red fruit nose, a creamy texture, hints of game and soy, and lovely purity, with powerful but integrated tannins—this should be very fine in time.
We then tasted a number of 2012s, including a very nice, light and open Chambolle Village (89), an open, transparent and minerally Vougeot Les Petits Vougeots (90), and a range of fine 1er Crus, including a Chambolle Charmes with rich jammy fruit on the nose but a good mineral spine (90+), an excellent Nuits Meurgers, with good delineation and power (91); Vosne Malconsorts, with a great mélange of red fruits and spice on the nose, it was on the delicate side but elegant and with refined tannins (93). As for the Grands Crus, the Clos Vougeot was classy, with a high-toned minerally nose, perfume, spice and good acidic lift (93); the RSV was very refined , with excellent weight and balance and an extra touch of finesse at the end (93+). In contrast was the gamy, rich and powerful Richebourg, with touches of leather and soy, a creamy red fruit middle, excellent balancing acidity, and an extremely long finish with silky tannins (94).
Château de la Tour: generally good ‘13s, with notable successes at both ends of the tasting: an utterly brilliant village Gevrey (a negoce wine) and a remarkable Hommage. The small negociant range was quite well made, including a very nice Bourgogne V.V. (50 year old vines from Chorey) and a successful Beaune Clos du Dessus des Marconnets, which despite some dry tannins at the end was really quite bright and pure for a Beaune in this vintage. Most remarkable though was the Gevrey V.V., which gets my vote for over-achiever of the vintage: the nose was quite perfumed, with a citric touch, and the palate had excellent lift and purity, with notes of kirsch, black pepper and a saline touch; the finish was spicy and very long. Yes, Gevrey was the sweet spot in 2013, but this is still remarkable for a Village wine. The Clos Vougeot V.V. was certainly a good wine, with excellent briary fruit on the nose, and was dense and rich with saline and game notes and some fierce tannins but seemingly the richness to carry them as they modulate. The Clos Vougeot Hommage a Jean Morin was in another category, however, with incredible density to the nose, showing notes of licorice, kirsch, perfume, black pepper and minerals; on the palate it was rich, silky and elegant, with very refined tannins.
Ponsot: overall, a lovely range that demonstrates the attractive side of this vintage, then mounts to a more serious crescendo with the Clos St Denis and Clos de la Roche. I liked the Morey 1er Cru Cuvée Les Alouettes, with excellent terroir character, good balance, and medium tannins; the Corton Bressandes (the only wine racked to this point), which showed good ripeness, medium tannins and a long finish; and the Griottes-Chambertin, with a nice mix of sweet fruit (cherries, raspberries and currants) and excellent spice, though a fair amount of tannin. Better still were the Chapelle-Chambertin, which was quite transparent, very balanced, with creamy tannins and a long finish developing; the Clos de Bèze (only 1 barrel), which was extremely primary on the nose but had great purity in the middle, and it seemed as though the acidity and the super-ripe fruit are in balance with little tannin in evidence (to me, it far outshone the much less dense though pleasant Chambertin); and the Clos Vougeot V.V., which was dense and intense (not unlike the Ch. de la Tour V.V. version). The two big guns performed as they should, with the Clos St. Denis T.V.V. (in tank) being relatively open-knit yet with a lot of rich material and a minerality that drove it throughout–an elegant wine with soft tannins and great length. The Clos de la Roche V.V. had an intensely spicy nose of beeswax, dried herbs, black pepper and cream, with red fruit coming up on the palate, a penetrating minerality, great energy and superb balance, all culminating in an extremely long finish.
Dujac: usually when we’re here, the wines need racking and are consequently quite reduced. This time, they had completed their (sole) racking about 10 days before we arrived and the wines were showing quite well. While we only taste the wines we’re allocated, which is unfortunate as it limits what one can say about the range, we tasted several first-rate wines here, as the notes reflect.
The Morey Village was quite a nice example, with spice, mustard seed and perfume, and good transparency. The Gevrey Combottes was particularly good, with deep red fruit, perfume, a meaty touch, spice and citrus, again very transparent and with excellent weight. The Charmes-Chambertin had very pure fruit up front and a light pure lingering finish, and was showing quite well, as was the Vosne Malconsorts, a complete contrast with its deep Vosne spice, intensity and weight; though a bit tannic and hard at the moment, there was real refinement here. The Clos de la Roche had deeply pitched fruit, a touch of perfume from the stems, a lot of minerality and excellent lift at the end, a very fine wine but it was slightly outshone by the Clos St. Denis, which showed more violets on the nose, strawberries on the palate, and a bit more oak spice, but overall it was an elegant wine with a refined finish.
De Montille: Sadly, our visit came just a few days after the death of Hubert de Montille—though of all ways to go, a swift passing while drinking his own wine (’99 Pommard Rugiens) in the company of friends, was perhaps among the best ways to exit.
Because the domaine has both whites and reds, and from both Côtes, and because the wine growing and wine making is careful and intelligent, this domaine could well serve as a microcosm of the vintage. As Etienne de Montille said, it is a good, but not a great, vintage. Not surprisingly, the Côte De Nuits reds were clearly more successful than those of the Côte de Beaune (the whites are discussed in that section of this report).
In particular, the Vosne Malconsorts was very fine, intense and powerful, with great transparency, and a hint of silk; the tannins, though heavy, are ripe and will modulate. The Vosne Malconsorts Cuvée Christiane was, as usual, even better, with a wonderful silky mouthfeel, positive acidity, great minerality, intense red fruit on the nose and palate, and tannins that were a bit suaver than the regular Cuvée. It used to be difficult to find Malconsorts worthy of the name; now there are at least a quartet of domaines (Cathiard, Hudelot-Noellat, Dujac and de Montille) that seem to be in an intense if unspoken competition to place Malconsorts at the top of the Vosne 1ers.
Faiveley: a really fine range of Côte de Nuits reds here, with some standout successes.
Not surprisingly, the tasting passed quite quickly out of the Côte de Beaune and settled in Nuits-St-Georges, where the Premiers Crus were very good but clearly outpaced by the Chambolles and Gevreys that followed. The Porrets-St.-Georges was quite earthy but with excellent balance and transparency and the Les-St.-Georges was also very good, with excellent tension, strong but suave tannins, and incredible persistence (we also tasted a non-Domaine version, to be sold separately, which had more fruit than the Domaine example but lacked the complexity). The Chambolles (mostly negociant wines) showed well, including an easy, lighter-style but very enjoyable Chambolle Charmes, a Chambolle Combe d’Orveaux that had much more depth on the palate, with good transparency and persistence, and a Chambolle Amoureuses, which had a wonderful nose of complex red fruit, spice and minerals and polished tannins at the end, but at least today seemed to lack a little mid-palate depth. The standout for me among the Gevrey 1er Crus was the Clos des Issarts, with smoked meat and hints of stone fruit on the nose, a silky quality on the palate, and a spicy long finish. The Gevrey Grands Crus included an impressive Mazis-Chambertin, with intense rich fruit balanced by good acidity, modulated tannins and an amazing complex finish; Clos de Bèze, with a huge nose of red fruit, dried herbs, grilled meats, licorice, lavender and minerals–this was a very powerful wine, the only nit being that it seemed to lack a bit of generosity; and the superb Clos de Bèze Ouvrées Rodin, richer and sweeter than the regular Bèze, deeply minerally with great balance, a wine that gained depth as one studied it, with sophisticated tannins and a multi-minute finish. As with Bouchard and Jadot, Faiveley insists on tasting its flagship wine at or near the end, which in my view is always a mistake, and the Corton Clos des Cortons Faiveley, while an excellent wine, is just not sophisticated enough to come after the Ouvrées Rodin. The Musigny, however (tasted this year directly from the single small barrel, which has a locked bung), did deserve to be served last, with deep spice, great purity, strong penetrating minerality, the characteristic blood orange note, and extremely polished tannins on an incredibly elegant finish; this was truly superb, though it will be almost impossible to find.
Drouhin: The style of the reds this year tends towards softness, with an emphasis on the sweet fruit. While for the most part they do not suffer from the excess of acidity and tannin that many wines do, the tradeoff seems to have been that, while attractive for short and perhaps medium term drinking, they do not look to be long-distance runners, and in some cases (Grands Echézeaux for example) seem to lack the weight of their classification (so did the Jadot Grands Ech—I wonder what might have happened here). On the other hand, when they succeed (Chambolle Amoureuses, for example), they are nothing short of brilliant.
While the Chambolle 1er Cru, usually among my favorite value wines, seemed too soft this year for my taste, and the Grands Echézeaux, as mentioned, didn’t have the density or weight I typically associate with the appellation, the Clos Vougeot had much more structure and intensity, with medium weight, and the Vosne Petits Monts was soft, fleshy and quite charming. The Griottes-Chambertin, usually reduced at this time of year and hard to taste, was mercifully accessible, and a very fine wine, with gorgeous cherry fruit, meat and minerals on the nose, and on the palate it was soft, pretty, very well balanced, with the acidity in check and the tannins hardly evident. The Clos de Bèze was also charming, but I missed the power of the best examples. The Musigny had an amazing nose, extremely refined with a delicate balance of minerality; on the palate, while good, it did seem a bit on the soft side, and had some dry tannins at the end. For me, it was bested this year by the Chambolle Amoureuses, with just the right balance of sweet strawberry fruit, mineral lift and silky tannins—an exceptionally elegant wine.
Benjamin Leroux: In a relatively short period, Benjamin has developed a large portfolio; there are now about 49 different appellations. Overall, the winemaking here is sophisticated and successful, though as with any large portfolio of domaine and negoce wines, there is bound to be variation, which will be accentuated in a vintage such as 2013. While we did not see many of the Côte de Beaune reds, the Côte de Nuits reds are generally successful, albeit—as everywhere—some more so than others. There are also some real stars here, as discussed in the notes. Nevertheless, one has to wonder if, between 49 different cuvées and (until this year) responsibility for Comte Armand as well, Benjamin has been in danger of spreading himself too thinly.
The range of Côte de Nuits wines included excellent examples of Gevrey Village, with excellent transparency, and Chambolle Village, quite charming and easy, with a touch of stems. We jumped immediately to the Grands Crus, which included an excellent Clos Vougeot, an easy style of Clos Vougeot but with lots of sweet fruit and nice minerality, and a similarly open and charming Echézeaux, both of which seemed to exemplify the friendly side of this vintage. The Clos de la Roche seemed a bit more serious and powerful, yet balanced, while the Bonnes Mares was refined but quite powerful, with ripe tannins fully evident on the finish. Best of all was the Chambolle Amoureuses, with a pure and complex red fruit nose, a silky texture to the fruit on the palate combined with strong mineral lift, and a long fruit finish with refined tannins—a combination of sexy fruit and refinement, which probably could engender all sorts of analogies, if Kapon were writing this.
Bouchard: Here one sees the unevenness of the vintage writ large. Several of the Côte de Beaune reds we normally taste were missing from the lineup, the crop having been nearly destroyed by hail. While those we did taste mostly showed the effects of the hail in the drying tannins, there were a couple of unexpected successes (discussed below). The Côte de Nuits reds were obviously better, but still inconsistent, as the notes reflect. Overall, there were a number of pleasurable reds but nothing that stands out as great.
Among the better wines here from the Côte de Nuits were the Chambolle Les Noirots, from purchased grapes, which had a very nice creamy texture; the Clos Vougeot, which as with a number of others we saw on this trip was an approachable, rich and easy style of Clos Vougeot, and a Chapelle-Chambertin, which if it didn’t quite have the grip of the Ponsot or Trapet versions, still had a nice line, and was an elegant, lighter-style Chapelle.
Jadot: The Jadot team is so nice, that I keep wanting to like these wines more than I do. This is not to say the wines are in any sense bad; they are never less than conscientiously made, but one can’t help wishing they were more exciting and less dutiful.
Of the wines of the Côte de Nuits, many seemed soft and pleasant, if a little under-weight, while others suffered from the hard tannins that are present in so many wines of this vintage. Though the Gevrey Clos St. Jacques had good lift and balance, it really couldn’t compete with the Bruno Clair example; better were the Chambolle Amoureuses, which had more definition than most of the range, with good weight, balance and length and a creamy texture, and Clos de Bèze, displaying purity, balance and power, with all the elements in place, and for me the best of the range.
Camille-Giroud: David Croix is an exceptionally talented winemaker, but as he admitted, the wines seemed somber and shut down on the day we visited. One hopes that they may eventually show much better, but on the day, it was a difficult tasting. Of the Côte de Nuits wines, I did find virtue in the Vosne Village, with intense deep fruit and spice, the Gevrey Lavaux St. Jacques, very aromatic with a cut mineral edge and sweet fruit bubbling up on the finish, and the Chambertin, which was complex and powerful, with good transparency.
Côte de Beaune
Normally I review each Domaine and negociant separately, but in 2013 that would entail a lot of sad commentary, as growers whom I highly respect struggled to produce something that Mother Nature seemed determined to deny them. While many of the resulting wines are capable of providing some pleasure, they are difficult for me to recommend. So I will offer some brief commentary on key domaines, and a short list of the wines I thought succeeded against the odds.
Lafarge: Small quantities, owing both to the poor spring and the July hailstorm. Frédéric Lafarge said 65% of the crop was lost. The domaine did a good job considering the difficulties they faced, but still, some of the wines seemed to suffer from a bit too much acidity and dry tannins. At the top end, there was however a silky quality to the wines, and if the tannins smooth out over time, these could be very good.
The Volnay Mitans was silky and balanced, with a touch of acidity at the back, but the tannins had been well managed. The Volnay Caillerets had a dense mineral and red fruit nose with an earthy touch, and a pure spicy transparent finish, here the tannins were evident but not overly aggressive. The Volnay Clos des Chênes had a dense, almost syrupy nose, on the palate it seemed a bit light at first but very silky; here the tannins were stronger but they had some refinement and should eventually soften.
Marquis d’Angerville: this domaine was severely affected by hail during the growing season and the crop was about 15 hl/ha, roughly 40% of normal, the second straight year of hail damage. D’Angerville’s wines have consistently ranked for me among the top wines of the Côte de Beaune. Unfortunately, whether due to the cumulation of disasters Mother Nature has visited on the estate, or simply because of the conditions that day, the wines were not showing well when we visited. Friends who visited later had better reports, so follow-up will be required to see whether or not it was just an accident of timing.
Michel Gaunoux: As always, no barrel samples were offered, though we were the first to taste the ‘12s out of bottle. ’12 was the first of the three consecutive tiny harvests in this part of the Côte de Nuits, and while others were more enthusiastic than I about the full range, certainly the Pommard Rugiens was first-rate, rich and concentrated with very pure fruit and excellent length (93).
Other noteworthy Côte de Beaune Reds: first, I should mention that while I had to miss the appointment with Nicolas Rossignol, my colleagues said that these were some of the most successful Côte de Beaune reds of the entire trip. From my prior visits, I can say that Nicolas Rossignol is certainly a very talented winemaker and someone to watch.
Bouchard’s Beaune Clos de la Mousse was a success for the vintage, with a lot of sweet fruit, if a bit austere at the finish, and the Beaune Grèves Vigne de L’Enfant Jésus was quite rich, plummy almost, with a lot of acidity after, a success in the context of the vintage though not a great Enfant Jésus.
Chandon de Briailles—Corton was mostly outside the hail zone in 2013, and among the successes here were an intense, precise Aloxe-Corton Les Valozieres; a powerful Corton Bressandes (20 hl/ha, due to losses at flowering), large-framed with sweet red fruit and a gamy touch; and Corton Clos du Roi, with excellent lift and transparency, though some pretty fierce tannins which will take many years to modulate.
De Montille’s Pommard Rugiens (Bas) had great red fruit and earth on the nose, a silky touch and tannins that were not at all aggressive. It is in a more approachable style for Pommard and benefitted from Etienne’s decision not to use any stems for this wine this year.
Senard’s Corton Bressandes and Clos du Roi were both also very nice, with the Bressandes as usual more open and rich but the Clos du Roi holding more in reserve.
Also, as noted above, Corton mostly escaped the hail (though not the other problems of the vintage) and for other successes in Corton, see the Faiveley and Ponsot reviews above.
François Carillon: There is some first-rate winemaking here, and the ‘13s, with their focus and precision, were among the best whites we tasted from this vintage. The Puligny Champs Gain had beautiful white flowers, minerals, spice and lime on the nose, and was deeply minerally and racy. The Puligny Folatières and Perrières were especially good: the Folatières was pure, linear, very driven, with excellent fruit and floral qualities and a rich finish, while the Perrières was elegant, spicy and floral, a calm wine with great balance and purity and stony depths.
Bernard Moreau: There were some very pretty wines here, but also others where the acidity tended to overwhelm the fruit, a persistent issue in this vintage. Among the successes were an excellent Chassagne Village, with good grip and minerality; a restrained, balanced Chassagne Maltroie; and a very fine Chassagne Grand Ruchottes, with an excellent floral and minerally nose, sweet fruit, pear spice, and excellent power and drive. The Bâtard had a restrained nose of pears and cinnamon, good balance, ripe apply fruit and spice, and good length. Even better was the Chevalier, which was minerally, pure, a bit richer and riper than Bâtard, with more material. At the end, we tasted the 2012 Chassagne Maltroie for comparison, and it was rich, intense and powerful—massive but still pure, with sweet peaches and spice, citrus and a long mineral finish (91+).
Latour-Giraud: Here we first tasted the ‘12s (from bottle) and then the ‘13s. This was perhaps a bit unfair to the ‘13s, as the ‘12s are a very complete vintage here and also in a fuller stage of development. By comparison, the ‘13s seemed easier and more relaxed, likeable, without the intensity or dense fruit flavors of the ‘12s, but still very nice wines for near-term drinking.
Among the better ‘13s were the Meursault Genevrières, with a deep minerally nose and the fruit just starting to emerge, but also some very nice floral notes; the Meursault Perrières, which had more sweet fruit, and was less stony than normal, but, with a hint of cream, it was a very likeable wine; and best of all the Meursault Genevrières Cuvée des Pierre, which had a rich floral nose with touches of lemon and licorice, a lovely texture, balanced, elegant and with more ripe fruit in evidence than the others.
Among the ‘12s, the Meursault Charmes was large-boned, with some prominent oak though lots of rich fruit (90?); the Meursault Genevrières had a stony, spicy nose that jumped out of the glass, hints of clove and lime rind, and a real sense of density with good acid balance (92); and the Meursault Genevrières Cuvée des Pierre had a refined and subtle nose of fruit and flowers and was a balanced, intense but subtle wine (94).
Guy Roulot: Last year at the same time, many wines were still in malo and we were unable to taste them. This year, although the harvest was late and the malos were also generally late, we were able to taste the range, and there are some wonderful wines here in 2013, as well as a high standard of quality overall. While they may not, according to Jean-Marc, have the same precision as 2012, they are nonetheless well-crafted, transparent and delicious.
As usual, the Bourgogne Blanc merits mention, overperforming its appellation even if a touch acidic at the finish. The Meursault Meix Chavaux had sweet berry fruit and white flowers on the nose, with a touch of lemon cream and spice-cake on the finish. The Meursault Tillets was a puppy dog with a wet nose, and while charming, I don’t know how serious it is. The Meursault Tessons Clos de Mon Plaisir had a steely quality on the nose, great balance, and both charm and restraint. But the best of the lieux-dits, for me, was the Meursault Luchets, with a brilliantly pure nose and spice, mineral, and floral notes; on the palate it was balanced and charming, and then it had an extremely focused finish, with great cut and purity. Among the 1er Crus, I didn’t think the Meursault Clos des Bouchères was entirely persuasive, but it may just need time. The Meursault Charmes and Perrières, however, were terrific wines, with the Charmes showing a lot of minerality for this terroir, and more depth than usual; it was tightly wound and extremely long. The Perrières had a silky quality on the palate, with peaches and cream, lemon curd, and spice, all in balance and with a very long dry finish, showing some tannin, that should keep it for a long while, if premox doesn’t claim it.
Henri Boillot: Another domaine which prefers to show its bottled wines. We tasted the ‘12s, and the whites were absolutely delicious. The Meursault Genevrières was spicy, floral, and with good tension (92), while the Puligny Clos de la Mouchère was softer than the Meursault, with a nice spicy element to it, excellent freshness and a long minerally finish—very harmonious (94). The Bâtard was intensely floral, with great precision and power, and leaning to the mineral side; the only nit was a touch of wood showing through at the end (93). The Corton-Charlemagne lacked a little grip in the middle compared to the Bâtard, and was flinty and slightly dry on the finish, with a touch of white pepper (92).
De Montille: The word “light” recurs most frequently in my notes on the whites. Overall, these seemed to lack density, though a couple were nonetheless very nice, including the Puligny Folatières (Ch. de Puligny). I liked its balance and persistence, though it could perhaps have used a bit more richness—it is Etienne’s favorite, though. The Puligny Cailleret was elegant and floral, with white peach and citrus notes, and for me was the best of this range.
Bonneau du Martray: it was hard to read the ’13 when we tasted it; it had good components, which hadn’t all come together yet, though they may. We also tasted a range of vintages, and I was surprised to find I preferred this wine in vintages I expected to dislike—that is, 2009 and 2006, both tending towards blowsiness elsewhere, but quite balanced and minerally here.
Colin-Morey: There has for a long time been debate in our group about the wines of this domaine, with some finding them too oaky and others admiring their transparency. I tend to come down squarely in the middle of this debate, which is to say that I find some wines exceptional and others overly influenced by the oak treatment. That said, Pierre Yves’s wines in 2013 seemed very linear—strongly minerally and transparent but without enough balancing fruit. The Meursaults were a notable exception, though. The Meursault Narvaux had a lovely stony nose, with hints of bacon fat and spice; it was intense and had great presence for Narvaux. The Meursault Charmes was more floral, with a sweet easy nose, a creamy texture and a long spicy finish, while the Meursault Genevrières also had a creamy texture but a very pure mineral focus to it, and the Meursault Perrières was ripe and rich on the nose but gave way to an almost raspy minerality on the palate, great purity, and a laser-like finish; this will need time. The Corton-Charlemagne was the best of the range, beautifully balanced with a pure nose, great weight, structure and balance, if just a hint of dryness at the end; Pierre-Yves said this is usually a blend of Pernand and Aloxe fruit, but there was nothing from Pernand in ’13 because of the hail, and the resulting wine in his view has more power and body.
Leflaive: The 2013s seemed a bit hard to evaluate, but were not exciting on this particular day. Chef de Cave Louis Brière pointedly told us he came on board in 2008, effectively disclaiming responsibility for the wines of the interregnum (including the disastrous 2006s and the rapidly oxidizing 2007s—my descriptions, not his). Nevertheless, while I wish I could report that Leflaive was still the reference standard in Puligny-Montrachet, the reality (widely discussed in the Village) is that it has slipped from its perch (as has Ramonet in Chassagne). On the other hand, there is no successor ready to be anointed. While the lower level wines were unpersuasive, and several of the Premiers Crus seemed marked by the acidity, I did quite like the Bienvenues-Bâtard, which had more sweet fruit than most in the range, was quite powerful for Bienvenues and the most well-integrated of all the wines we saw.
After the 2013s, we were given a 2000 Puligny Pucelles to taste, and it was badly oxidized, which was rather shocking, as the 2000s have been drinking extremely well in my experience, from good cellars in the US. At my request, a broker friend who had been offering several cases of this wine, recently released from the Domaine, opened a bottle–with the same result. I do not know what went on in the Domaine cellar, or if it was related to the 2003 heat wave, but I do know that over the past several years I have drunk a number of premoxed bottles of recently-released older wines, while the wines purchased on original release from vintages such as ’96, ’99 and ’00 continue to perform brilliantly.
Other (predominantly red-wine producing) Domaines that made good whites in 2013: a very nice Beaune Clos des Aigrots Blanc from Michel Lafarge, light, elegant with some strong acidity at the finish but quite enjoyable; an excellent Nuits Clos des Grands Vignes from Liger-Belair, with sweet fruit on the nose and a very minerally aspect, some glycerine, and notes of allspice, ginger and grapefruit—overall an intriguing wine; Ponsot’s Morey Clos des Monts Luisants T.V.V., which had great balance, sweet peaches, flowers and spice and a light lemon touch on the finish, and Senard’s Aloxe Corton Blanc (from Pinot Gris), which was deeply minerally and floral, with excellent glycerine, a rich and interesting wine.
Bouchard: The whites were a different story here from the reds. The Fèvre Chablis were excellent overall, and several were first-rate; these continue to represent good value in Chablis. The Côte de Beaune whites were also mostly very good to excellent, particularly at the top end. Among the Chablis, there was not a single Grand Cru we tasted that did not perform well. I quite liked the Valmur, a softer style of Valmur perhaps, with quince, lemon and a lovely floral element; and Les Clos, which took time for the nose and palate to unfold. However, for me, the two standouts were the Bougros “Côte Bouguerots”, with sweet peaches, white flowers, stones and excellent balance throughout; and Les Preuses, which was very intense, with a strong steely spine, floral notes and white peaches, and a really nice spiciness.
Among the Côte de Beaune whites, standouts included the Meursault Genevrières, a soft, elegant wine, but complete and balanced; the Meursault Perrières, with pears, spice and a hint of licorice in the nose, deeply stony on the palate, more intense if less elegant than the Genevrières; a very nice Chevalier that was however, overshadowed by the Chevalier La Cabotte, which was an extremely elegant wine with a subtle perfume, deep spice, transparency and a very long finish, and only a touch of heat at the end to keep it off a high pedestal; and the Montrachet, with a nose of quince, spice and honey, soft entry and a honeyed touch balanced by a deep minerality, this was a complete, regal Montrachet.
Drouhin: The whites, as is typical, were mixed; the Chablis we tasted didn’t quite have the penetrating minerality of the best, though they were nice; the Domaine (and Laguiche) whites were generally better than the negociant whites, and were very good. I particularly liked the Chassagne Morgeot Marquis de Laguiche, with a calm, floral nose and a lovely hint of spice; sweet red fruits on the palate, spice and floral qualities; the Corton Charlemagne, which had a reticent nose, but great balance, power and presence on the palate, and the Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche, with an intense, very pure nose, medium weight, hints of pineapple, yet a sense of restraint and aristocracy.
Faiveley: The whites were less persuasive than the reds, but still there were some successes here, including the Meursault Charmes, a spicy charming wine with very strong acidity in the middle but not overdone; Bienvenues-Bâtard, with medium body, excellent balance, a saline quality and a spicy slightly acidic finish—this cuvée is definitely improving from year to year since Faiveley took it over; and best of all, the Corton-Charlemagne, with a beautiful, fully integrated nose of white flowers, spice and minerals, a balanced and nuanced palate, and elegance and great length at the end.
Benjamin Leroux: Overall, there were some particularly fine whites in the lineup. The Meursault Porusots had good transparency, an excellent spicy element, good tension, a wine that somehow managed to be soft and hard at the same time, and to pull it off. The Chassagne 1er Cru Abbaye de Morgeot showed ripe apples, citrus, spice and good texture, while the Puligny Champgain had a soft, almost silky texture, but excellent tension, especially on the finish. Best in my view was the Chassagne 1er Cru Tête du Clos, with a great pure nose of minerals, spice and a hint of beeswax; it was elegant and had great lift on the palate but was also quite calm, with a long, coiled, elegant finish.
Jadot: I still hold out hope that they will stop blocking the malos for the whites, now that Jacques Lardiere has retired, but it has not happened yet. Jacques always seemed to find some reason each vintage to do so, though the rationale varied from year to year, until eventually the exception became the rule, and not always in my opinion to the advantage of these wines. Standouts in 2013 included the Chevalier Les Demoiselles, with an elegant restrained nose of pear fruit, flowers and minerals, and an integrated spicy finish—this wine still needs time but should come together; the Corton-Charlemagne, in a soft, crowd-pleasing style, not classic perhaps but enjoyable; and the Montrachet, with a nose of white flowers, pears and lemon curd, tight-knit, with power, balance and intense minerality—this too needs time.
A Final Word: Readers of past vintage reports know that I among others remain frustrated by the fact that, while some white wine producers are seriously attempting to deal with the problem of premature oxidation, many others remain in denial, and no clear solution has as yet emerged. My depression worsens every time I drink a great 30-year old white (such as Ramonet’s ’82 Montrachet) and realize that none of the whites made in the last 2 decades will have a chance to achieve that nuance and refinement. Thus it came as quite a shock recently to receive a copy of an email, written by a seemingly reputable retailer, which contained the following sentence: “At the risk of invoking a sensitive subject amongst Burgundy enthusiasts, I would say, at least in our portfolio, the issue of premature oxidation has been confronted and resolved.” According to the writer, allowing the fresh must to be exposed to air prior to fermentation inoculates the wine against oxidation, the proffered proof being that the growers’ 2013s were pristine! Yes, it’s a theory, and there are serious people looking at it, but its only one of an number of theories one can hear in Burgundy, and even if it proves to help ameliorate the problem (there are still a number of other issues to be dealt with, including corks and use of SO2), the serious producers who are experimenting with this sort of approach understand that they will not begin to know the results until 5-8 years after the harvest, which is generally when premox starts to appear. To call the problem “solved” because wines that are still in barrel don’t taste oxidized is just one more sorry example of a wine trade that refuses to take the issue seriously.
© 2014 Douglas E. Barzelay
It is very difficult to write a headline for the 2012 vintage. The growing season presented vignerons with almost every conceivable difficulty, with results that varied from disastrous to extraordinary, and much in between.
The weather problems began even before the growing season, with a deep freeze in February that, surprisingly, seemed to affect primarily the old vines, and reduced their production of berries; predominantly cool and wet weather from April through July, resulting in a poor flowering; oïdium [powdery mildew, which needs treatment in advance; once it appears, it is very difficult to control] and other diseases, all of which contributed to very small yields in 2012. Even the advent of sunny weather in August contributed to the problem, producing a number of sunburned grapes. However, by far the worst problem, which primarily affected the Côte de Beaune—and Volnay much worse than elsewhere–was hail. There were in fact two major hailstorms that affected portions of the Côte de Beaune, the first on June 30th, and another at the beginning of August. While yields in general were 30-50% lower than “normal, “ the variation from vineyard to vineyard could be considerable, and in parts of Volnay yields were often down 70% and even more. As more than one producer commented, the only problem they didn’t face in 2012 was botrytis (though there were some reports of that as well, especially among the whites). In the face of these difficulties, constant vigilance, and treatment, was necessary, and particular problems were presented for practitioners of biodynamics, whose repertoire of treatments is necessarily limited.
Despite all these travails, and the resulting short crop, dry and sunny weather finally arrived in August, and persisted through the harvest, which began around the 20th of September. The combination of low yields and fine weather (“August makes the must” is an old Burgundian saying) meant that those grapes that remained (and which were generally smaller than usual, with a higher-than-usual ratio of skins to juice) achieved full and relatively even maturity.
To the extent generalizations can be made, let me make a few: first, the best wines are in the Côte de Nuits, and the top wines are superb, most closely resembling the 2010s. The best 2012s have significant density, a balance of fruit and acidity, excellent terroir expression, silky textures, and fine tannins. That harmony, however, was not easily achieved, and there are certainly wines that fall short of the mark, even at the best addresses. Also, problems with oïdium devastated some of the vineyards located higher on the hill: there will be no Ponsot Clos des Monts Luisants, for example, and many producers in Bonnes Mares had significant problems, as detailed in the notes below. (Indeed, while in some vintages certain communes may be more successful than others, in 2012 it seemed almost to go vineyard by vineyard: consistently remarkable Chambolle Amoureuses, for example, as opposed to the problems in Bonnes Mares.)
In the Côte de Beaune, where the problems were worse, the results were far more irregular, though some red wines achieved quality levels close to the best of the Côte de Nuits. Among the white wines, that irregularity seems amplified, with some significant successes but many others that are less interesting. In particular, a number of white wine growers struggled with balance, as acidity levels seem quite pronounced in many wines.
Some well-known wines will not be produced in 2012, as yields were too low to commercialize the wines, and such juice as there was has been blended into premier cru and Village wines. Others will be very hard to find: a typical case allocation of D’Angerville’s Volnay Clos des Ducs, for example, may be replaced by a single magnum. Prices will of course be higher, but it is doubtful that prices can be raised enough to cover the shortfall (and, as several growers noted, many estates have lost the equivalent of two full years of production between 2010 and 2013). Nonetheless, as one courtier said, “we are all going to have to get used to paying more for less.”
A Word About the 2011s, and the Perils of Barrel Tasting
While our primary focus was on the 2012s, along the way we tasted a number of 2011s. While some of these were relatively consistent with what we tasted last year, others left us scratching our heads. These included wines from superb producers. Had they just closed up once in bottle, or was there something problematic in this vintage that had not been evident from our barrel tastings? That is what every experienced barrel taster fears: something negative that does not appear until well after the taster has drawn his conclusions, written up his notes, made his buying decisions. For a classic cautionary tale, go back and read Robert Parker’s original notes on the ’83 Burgundy reds (if you can find them; I think they quietly disappeared some years ago). There is no mention of the tastes of rot and hail that became obvious in these wines once they were bottled, and that mar most of them to this day. But on the other side of the coin are vintages such as 1991 in Burgundy that no one, not even the vignerons who made them, thought much of either at the time or for many years thereafter. Today, there are some classically beautiful wines from that vintage that far outshine their older siblings, the 1990s, which were so highly rated at the time.
Even with experience (and there is no substitute, in barrel tasting, for years of watching the wines grow up and being brutally honest with oneself as to what one did and did not see coming), there are plenty of other pitfalls for the barrel taster. Among these are: how representative is the barrel one is tasting from? If the sample is drawn from a new, or an old, barrel, what percentage of the final blend does that represent? Some producers will blend an old and a new barrel, but if the final percentage is not 50/50, that only partially helps. A few will try to mix the right proportion, but that’s complex, and not many bother. Similarly, some vignerons with significant holdings in a single terroir may vinify parts of the vineyard separately, so as to get a better view of how each section matures, and perhaps to treat it differently during the elevage. Again, are you tasting an accurate blend? Also, barrels may develop in different ways and at different speeds, which may affect the final blend. The weather, and cellar temperature, also play a role: one day, we heard two different vignerons (both straight-shooters) comment that a particular barrel was showing more reduction than it had just the day before. And on the subject of reduction, although November is considered by many vignerons to be the best time to taste the prior year’s wines, it is also a time at which, especially among the more non-interventionist winemakers, the wines will be in need of a racking and showing reduction, CO2, or both. While an experienced taster can still draw significant conclusions about these wines, depending on the degree to which the wine is affected, it will necessarily increase the amount of guesswork involved. Then there are the wines that, for whatever reason, are not showing at their usual level on the day you’re there: for example, La Tâche was not on form the day we tasted, but what do you conclude, if the Riche and the Conti on either side of it are superb, and you know the track record of La Tâche: that it isn’t up to snuff this year, and you’ve just saved yourself a lot of money, or that it just wasn’t in a mood to talk to you that day, and you could wind up missing out on a great wine in a great vintage?
Also, of course, there are many things that can go wrong between the time one tastes and the time the wine gets bottled, including the bottling process itself (a few years ago, I watched in some horror as a mobile bottler arrived in the street outside a small domaine to do the bottling on a 100-degree day). For all these reasons, I prefer not to score wines—even within a range—until after they’ve been bottled.
Would we all be a lot better off waiting until the wines are in bottle? Clearly. But the reality is that buying decisions have to be made well before then. The best advice I can give is to consult a few different sources, pay more attention to the descriptions than to the scores, note their palate biases (we all have them), and check in on your purchases periodically. As I’ve said before, the best I can hope to provide at this time is an educated guess, based on a snapshot.
Please see the Addendum to this Report (which will be available in a few weeks) for a discussion of the 2011s we tasted this visit.
Côte de Nuits
DRC. In a vintage where there are highs and lows, why not start at the heights? Great as these wines have been over many years, it is possible that the standards at the domaine have never been higher or more rigorous. We did not taste the Corton, as it had been racked just before harvest. The Echézeaux had great balance and ripe tannins, and seemed more refined than past examples—probably the result of a more rigorous selection of parcels in recent vintages. The Grands Echézeaux, however, was at another level: rich, dense, with silky tannins, amazing spice on the finish, and great elegance. On this particular day, the reduction seemed to be suppressing the fruit and spice of the Romanée St. Vivant, though there was an underlying sense of balance and volume. The Richebourg, by contrast, was totally expressive, with great power and density, more spice than RSV, and a hint of gaminess; it finishes with dense and refined tannins, and great persistence. It is as if the Richebourg, sensing the challenge that the RSV has given it in recent vintages, decided to pick up its game in ’12. (I know, personifying wine is more than a little over the top, but to quote Evelyn Waugh, “the pathetic fallacy resounds in all our praise of wine.”) La Tâche, despite a sense of kaleidoscopic spice and a great deal of fruit, seemed a bit raw-boned and acidic on this day, with some hard tannins. Is it just a phase, or did something end up slightly out of balance in this difficult and capricious vintage? Only time—and retasting—will tell. The Romanée-Conti, by contrast, was absolutely brilliant: a wine that dances across the palate notwithstanding its density, and that is the epitome of elegance, with creamy tannins and a subtle, immensely long and silky finish.
Liger-Belair. Louis-Michel Liger-Belair thinks these may be the best wines he has ever made, and based on our tasting, I would not disagree. This is one estate (of which there are a handful) where the ‘12s may even surpass the ‘10s. (The Domaine also continues to expand: in 2012, Louis-Michel bought the Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru Clos des Grandes Vignes, which not only gave him his first domaine white (a small portion of the vineyard is planted with chardonnay) but also makes him perhaps the only proprietor in Burgundy to possess monopoles in premier cru (the Grandes Vignes), village (Clos du Château) and grand cru (La Romanée).) Despite some fairly high levels of reduction at present, one could readily see the underlying quality of these wines. While there are no wines in the stable that I would not recommend in ’12, particular standouts included the Vosne Village, with pure red fruit, spice and minerals, and a lot of volume and complexity for a Village wine; the Vosne Chaumes (one comment that I heard not inaccurately suggested that Louis-Michel had succeeded in making a wine from this vineyard that was finally competitive with the other Vosne 1er Crus), which was pure, silky and elegant, but also with the density that characterizes this vintage; the Vosne Suchots (2 barrels in 2012), intense, balanced, and incredibly dense, yet with great tension—despite the density, it never feels heavy; the Vosne Brulées (only one barrel, and not commercialized), which had great energy, spice and complexity; and the Vosne Reignots, as usual the best of the premiers crus, pure, deep, intense and seamless, with great refinement. Among the grands crus, the Echézeaux was also excellent, with power and intensity and a huge amount of dry extract, and La Romanée was brilliant—pure, elegant, refined, with a silky texture—more in the ethereal style of the ‘10s, perhaps, than the denser and richer ’12 style. Overall, this was a superb range, of which Louis-Michel can justly be proud.
Georges Mugneret-Gibourg. This is yet another great success for the Mugneret sisters, who continue, with little fanfare, to make some of the best wines in Burgundy. Even the Bourgogne Rouge is noteworthy, punching well above its weight class. As at Liger-Belair, all the wines across the range can be recommended, but this year I found the premiers crus especially compelling, particularly the Nuits Chaignots, which had rich, sweet fruit and spice and excellent balance, without the slightly ponderous touch that often characterizes the wines of Nuits; and a Chambolle Feusselottes, which had enormous concentration and complex fruit, yet maintained great purity. The Echézeaux was also fine, with an elegant, minerally nose, sweet fruit and a citrus touch, excellent balance, and some significant but ripe tannins on the long finish. The Clos de Vougeot, not surprisingly, was also first-rate, with a slightly reticent nose hinting at great depth, blackberry fruit and a floral component, fine balance, and a lot of density and intensity on the transparent, long finish. The most interesting wine, though, was the Ruchottes-Chambertin. This is the first year that grapes from the young (now 12-year old) vines have been added back to the grand cru, and while I had imagined that the effect might be somewhat dilutive, it was astonishing to see how much energy and lift they gave to this wine. This was an extremely harmonious wine, the fruit and minerality in total balance, with a nice added floral component, elegant but with underlying sap and an intensity that showed most clearly on the long transparent finish, and with the tannins dense but quite ripe and fine. Perhaps this was the ideal vintage for the addition of a more youthful cuvee, given that the density of the vintage could (in some places) induce a tendency toward heaviness. In any event, it was an interesting lesson. While it is not difficult to acknowledge that the whole may be greater than the sum of the parts (Roumier’s Terres Blanches and Terres Rouges cuvees of Bonnes Mares, each an outstanding wine in its own right, combine to make a more complex, balanced and interesting wine), it is intriguing that lesser cuvees, some not so interesting in their own right, can enhance rather than dilute the final blend. See the discussion of Clos de Tart for a further example. (Did I just use the word blend? I thought they did that in Bordeaux, not Burgundy☺. But the truth is that not all Burgundian climats are monolithic terroirs, and there can be variations of soil, exposure, drainage, clonal selection, vine age, etc. within a single vineyard, particularly the larger ones. This in no way vitiates the underlying importance of the concept of terroir, or of the differences between climats, as a visit to any good producer who has multiple premiers crus within a single commune will readily demonstrate.)
Grivot. As I have noted in prior reports, the quality of these wines has in recent years risen to near-top levels. During our visit, Etienne Grivot was quite forthcoming about the changes in his thinking that have led to these improvements. He said that in the past his wines were more “somber” when young, more introverted, and were crafted to show their depth of character only after long aging. He contrasted this to the style of other vignerons whose wines have been flamboyant from the start but burned out after a period of time. He said, though, that just as he has seen many of those colleagues introduce a measure of restraint and seriousness, so he has been trying to make his wines a bit more extroverted in their youth, emphasizing their innate energy. He is very pleased with his ‘12s, believing that they may be the best he has made, and noting their superb harmony. His comments in this regard are certainly not misplaced. Beginning with a pleasant and balanced Vosne Village, and including a Nuits Charmois (a Village lieu-dit) that displayed great mineral lift, energy and drive, the successes here included a Nuits Boudots, which despite a good deal of reduction (as with most wines in this cellar at the moment), was minerally, penetrating and pure, developing a silky texture and with a lot of material, as well as tannins that seemed particularly refined for Nuits (even on the Vosne side); a silky, elegant Vosne Brulées; a high-toned, mineral driven Vosne Beaumonts, with tremendous dry extract and powerful but refined tannins, and a heavily reduced Vosne Suchots that nonetheless had beautiful balance, harmony, a silky texture and a bright, pure finish. The Echézeaux was very nice, with ripe cherry fruit supported by excellent acidity, though I thought the strong tannins just missed a little refinement, and the Clos de Vougeot, which seemed less brooding than usual, had a lot of sweet fruit and coffee/chocolate notes—although I liked this wine, I was not as enthusiastic as either my cohorts or Etienne. However, unanimity returned with the Richebourg, a wine that is just beginning to reveal its depths, but that looks to combine power and silk, the ideal combination for a great Riche. It is balanced and the tannins are dense but fine; I suspect that this will have much more to give in time.
Méo-Camuzet. The domaine wines achieved great success in 2012, and while I continue to find the negociant wines less compelling overall, there were some successes there as well. The Vosne Village was particularly good, among the best wines of this appellation that we tasted: dense, spicy and intense but with excellent balance and lift and a more interesting finish than one usually finds at this level. The Nuits Meurgers was also compelling, with pure raspberry and black cherry fruit and earth, spice and coffee touches, elegant for Nuits (this is the third time I’ve noted an unusually refined Nuits in this report, perhaps a gift of this vintage), and with fine transparency on the finish. The Corton Perrières was also a standout, with a gorgeous nose of sweet cherries, spice and minerals and excellent mineral lift in the mid-palate–an accessible and charming wine, though a little hardness to the tannins does suggest its Corton origins. The Echézeaux was very primary on the nose and medium weight on the mid-palate, but with huge dry extract coming through in back and an amazingly long finish. This was followed by a superb Vosne Brulées, which I even preferred to the excellent Cros Parantoux: the Brulées was incredibly dense and spicy, yet never lost its balance, its intensity perfectly matched with the lift given by the acidity, with vey refined tannins, a wine that will take years to show everything it has in reserve; while the Cros Parantoux, which showed its cool climate origins, was more closed than the Brulées, but had intense spice running throughout the wine, with a dense, deep cherry nose and a perfumed touch, a bit of wood showing, and a deep minerally finish with dry but refined tannins. The Richebourg was, as one might expect, superb: brooding, a touch reduced, but hinting at great depth, with a silky texture; it was the epitome of refinement, with a pure, long finish and tannins that were so refined as to be hardly evident, yet they will keep this wine for a long time.
Sylvain Cathiard. Sebastien Cathiard, who took over from his father in 2011, is making some careful but significant changes at this already highly respected Vosne estate, including some reduction in the new oak regime. These were impressive 2012s, and I expect even better things in the future from this reticent but serious young winemaker. A few wines were not showing well when we tasted, including the Chambolle Clos de L’Orme and the Vosne Reignots, but the large majority of the wines were quite fine. The Vosne Village was excellent here, with dense cherry fruit and spice and a developing silky texture, as was the Nuits 1er Cru Aux Thorey, which though a little marked by the oak had depth, earth and spice and a lovely transparent finish. Even better was the Nuits Meurgers, rich and dense, very earthy and with a fair amount of oak, but with a ripe fruit and pure mineral finish also showing spice and pepper notes, and the Vosne Suchots, which had deep cherry fruit on the nose, was ripe and intense on the palate, with mineral lift and again a very spicy, peppery finish, with ripe tannins and an elegant line. The Vosne Malconsorts had a touch of oak on the nose, but also huge dense fruit and spice, and hinted at even greater depth and intensity to come; on the palate, it had huge dry extract and penetrating minerality but retained its balance, and it ended with a silky, transparent fruit-driven finish, and refined tannins—a very impressive wine. Even more impressive was the Romanée St. Vivant, with an aristocratic, spicy and elegant nose; a silky texture, suave and silky tannins, and a long spicy finish, a wine that is tout en finesse.
Hudelot-Noellat. Overall, this estate, now run by the youthful but serious Charles van Canneyt, produced an excellent range of wines in 2012. Not everything showed equally well, but among the successes was an excellent Vosne Village, pure and charming with a black cherry finish and not a great deal of tannin (though a hint of tartness on the finish). The premiers crus were particularly successful (apart from a Vosne Beaumonts that had just been racked and was inaccessible), including the Nuits Meurgers, which was a soft, earthy, fruity and charming Nuits; a spicy dense Vosne Suchots, with a touch of violets on the finish and a sense of silkiness developing; and, most notably, a seductive Chambolle Charmes, with a great pure nose of complex fruit, spice and minerals; and an intense, perfumed, complex and structured Vosne Malconsorts, with a long spicy, complex and transparent finish. Among the grands crus, the Clos de Vougeot was very nice, with soft raspberry fruit and a spicy open finish, but possibly lacking the density one would expect in this vintage; the Richebourg was better, also with a relatively open structure, but muscular and with more ripe black fruits; and best of all was the Romanée St. Vivant, which was intense, spicy and creamy, with excellent density, good tension and balance and a long finish showing significant but refined tannins.
De Montille. While the bulk of this domaine’s holdings are in the Côte de Beaune, it has some noteworthy holdings in the Côte de Nuits, including in the Clos de Vougeot (which was not showing well on this particular day, as Etienne de Montille acknowledged), but most notably in Vosne Malconsorts, where it makes both a regular cuvee (a very fine wine with lots of rich sweet fruit and excellent acidity, some strong but focused tannins, and a sense of precision and balance on the spicy finish) and the brilliant Cuvee Christiane—an extraordinary wine in 2012, with an intense nose that included black cherries and spice but hinted at much greater depth, a palate that was perfectly balanced between fruit and acidity, and a spicy, complex and incredibly precise finish that went on for several minutes. There is a lot of great Malconsorts in this vintage, but this cuvee, from a plot located just under La Tâche, could well be the best.
Roumier. Though it hardly comes as a surprise, Christophe Roumier made utterly brilliant wines in 2012. While the combination of small quantities in 2012 and the already robust diversion of Roumier wines into the gray market (including, it would seem, by some designated importers) are likely to make the top wines difficult to find and wildly expensive, the Village Chambolle still remains relatively plentiful, and it is a huge success in 2012: intensely rich Chambolle fruit but with a strong mineral lift, and a long transparent finish. The Morey Clos de la Bussière seemed a bit flat and rustic by comparison, but the Chambolle Combottes was a return to form, more minerally than the Chambolle Village, very structured and balanced and with a lovely pure cherry finish, though some significant tannins. The Chambolle Les Cras was first rate, with incredible red fruit and spice, a silky texture, great density, and a pure intense mineral finish that went on and on. The Charmes Chambertin was the best iteration of this wine from Christophe that I can remember, with lovely raspberry fruit, a lighter, elegant style, ripe tannins and a long transparent finish. (This wine now comes solely from vines planted in 1991 and 1999, but Christophe says he finds it denser than when the older vines, now pulled up, were included.) The Ruchottes Chambertin was very structured, meaty and powerful, with a lot of dry extract, but there seemed to be, in addition to the expected reduction–which made it a bit difficult to access–a slight lactic note on the nose. The Bonnes Mares will be a great wine; it had an intense brooding nose, great purity on the palate, dark cherries, violets, minerals, and incredible depth, with a very pure mineral finish, sweet fruit and spice (and a chocolate note at the end) and refined tannins. Incidentally, although Christophe usually vinifies the Terres Rouges and Terres Blanches cuvees separately and then assembles them for the final blend, this year he did not. Nonetheless, given the problems in Bonnes Mares in 2012, this is one of the few genuinely successful wines from this vineyard in this vintage. The Chambolle Amoureuses (which Christophe this year showed after the Bonnes Mares, commenting that this is the style of wine he likes best) was totally harmonious, with a subdued nose hinting at incredible complexity and depth, red fruit and cinnamon; it was incredibly dense on the palate, but with a wonderful silky texture and remarkable finesse on the finish, which was immensely long and transparent—a grand cru Amoureuses for certain. The Musigny brought an appropriate close to this moment of reverie: spice, deep cherry fruit, beeswax and citrus on the nose, a high-toned, minerally core, an elegant, silky texture, and a delicate, refined finish that was even longer than that of the Amoureuses. A great range!
J. F. Mugnier. There are few greater pleasures than back-to-back appointments with Christophe Roumier and his next-door neighbor, Freddy Mugnier, two of the greatest winemakers in Burgundy, both making brilliant wines from many of the same appellations, yet in quite different styles–bringing to life Etienne Grivot’s remark that terroir does not speak directly but through its interpreters, who like orchestra conductors may bring different approaches to the same underlying score, and either create life and excitement, or leave one flat–or in some cases end up saying much more about the conductor than about the composer’s intent.
Speaking in gross generalities, Freddy tends to create more delicate and ethereal wines than Christophe, while Christophe’s wines tend to be more intense, if ultimately no less refined. Freddy’s Chambolle Village was restrained, with excellent complexity on the nose, a spicy, medium-bodied but pure and elegant wine, while his Chambolle Fuées was a tour de force: a lovely pure red fruit nose, silky texture, showing remarkable density in the mid-palate, with supple, fine tannins and a pure and persistent finish. The Nuits Clos de la Maréchale was characterized by huge sweet fruit, a big strike of earth in the mid-palate, and a lot of dry extract but some rusticity to the tannins, even though they are evolving towards more refinement. The Bonnes Mares was a bit hard to read, with some hard tannins up front, a large amount of dry extract, and a mostly mineral-driven middle, though not without some fruit. The Chambolle Amoureuses, however, was in another league: a sensational nose of pure red fruit, complex spice including a touch of cinnamon, and minerals, and a silky palate wrapping around a dense mineral core, with fine tannins and grand cru weight on the extremely long finish. The Musigny did not wilt under the competition, though, showing an intense nose of red fruit, violets, spice and a chocolate touch, with the classic orange top note of Musigny; on the palate, it had remarkable density, was highly structured and perfectly balanced, and finished with a kaleidoscope of flavors, fine tannins, and possibly a hint of heaviness (dry extract) in the mid-finish, but as it kept expanding, it opened again to greater clarity and seemed not to want to quit—nor did I.
Ghislaine Barthod. This was our first visit to this domaine, and it was an impressive one indeed. While there are no grands crus here, there are 9 different premier cru Chambolles, and any terroir skeptics (not that I know any, but I’m told they do exist) would do well to visit here and see for themselves the clear differences as one moves from one climat to another. Ghislaine Barthod is charming and passionate, and clearly loves her métier. While the Chambolle Village was pleasant, it was not on a level with the Roumier or Mugnier versions; however, things improved with the first of the premiers crus, a Chambolle Châtelots, with a high-toned raspberry, black cherry and mineral nose, medium body and a long transparent finish, and then jumped a level with the Chambolle Beaux Bruns (from the premier cru part of this climat), which had a deeper pitched nose of blackberry and blueberry fruit, excellent balance, good minerality and depth of fruit, and very ripe tannins–a wine of finesse. It was followed by Chambolle Les Baudes, more mineral-driven, with a nice touch of raspberry fruit and excellent balance; Chambolle Gruenchers, also mineral-driven, if more earthy and spicy, with slightly harder tannins, but very balanced; Chambolle Charmes, a particularly fine wine with a strawberry/mineral nose and complex fruit wrapping the mineral core, ripe and refined with a wonderful silky texture developing; Chambolle Fuées, a bit strict and unforthcoming, very structured, dense and persistent (70 year old vines); and Chambolle Véroilles (from a portion of this vineyard reclassified as premier cru in 1987 and a monopole of the domaine), which had dense sweet black fruit, spice, lavender and violets on the nose, as well as minerals—there was real power and intensity to this, yet it was still balanced and elegant, with a lovely spicy fruit finish and resolved tannins. To finish, the Chambolle Les Cras, with a profound nose that would even give the Roumier version a run for its money, was nuanced, complex and deep, the palate showing sweet red fruit and powerful minerality; this was a dense but harmonious wine, long and pure on the finish—superb quality.
François Bertheau. This was also our first visit to this domaine. François Bertheau refused to see us before 5:30 p.m., as he is out in the vineyards every day, and clearly he is more comfortable on his tractor than receiving visitors. This is a small, very old style domaine, with holdings in the heart of Chambolle. The fruit is 100% de-stemmed and there is minimal new oak, only about 18%. Triage is done in the vineyards. The wines had been racked in February, and were to be racked again in another month. There is no fining or filtration of these wines. The Chambolle Village had soft ripe fruit and was easy but not more. The Chambolle 1er Cru (a blend of 4 climats) had rich Chambolle fruit in the middle, resolved tannins and a soft and charming fruit finish, and the Chambolle Charmes was also soft, but with bright fruit and a transparent finish, if some hardness to it—both good but not great wines. However, the Chambolle Amoureuses was more impressive, full of fruit, with excellent acidity to give it balance, a silky texture, fine tannins and a very long finish. Sadly, there was no Bonnes Mares in 2012—the flowering was very poor, and the minimal amount harvested was not enough to vinify separately. While these are not wines to challenge Roumier or Mugnier, they are well made and do represent good value.
Ponsot. Laurent Ponsot was in a good mood the day we visited, and with reason. His 2012s are highly successful, even though quantities were significantly reduced. I particularly liked the Chambolle Charmes, with rich fruit, a sharp mineral edge to balance it, and an intense rich finish; the Morey Premier Cru Cuvée des Alouettes, with a dense, spicy and intense nose, great sweet fruit, spice, pepper, brambles and licorice on the palate, it is an enormous wine, especially for premier cru, yet at no point did it seem heavy; and Griottes-Chambertin, a perfect combination of fruit and minerality, with an absolutely brilliant long finish. I was less persuaded by the Chapelle-Chambertin and the Clos de Vougeot, whose intensely dark colors betokened what to me seemed too much extraction, and both of which were showing some heat at the finish. The Chambertin V.V. however, was terrific: while it had dense fruit, pepper and meat, it also had excellent lift, and the tannins were silky and refined. The two best wines, as usual, were the Clos St. Denis T.V.V. and the Clos de la Roche V.V. The Clos St. Denis had an extremely intense nose of spice, flowers, brambles and mushrooms, charming sweet fruit on the palate, good acidity lift, and complex spice on the finish, and silky tannins that nonetheless lingered along with the rich fruit and minerality. As great as it was, though, I did not think it quite came up to the level of the ’10 or the ’05. The Clos de la Roche had a spicy nose, though with a curious green fruit note at first that eventually opened to blue and black fruit; on the palate it was very intense, with excellent lift, exceptional depth, pepper and a nice citrus touch; on the finish, the tannins were very refined, and it became remarkably elegant and very prolonged. Overall, even if not quite across the board, this is another highly successful vintage for the domaine.
Dujac. Although we did not see the entire range, what we did see gave evidence of very successful wines here in 2012. The Morey Village started things on a good note, with a lot of dry extract for a Village wine, sweet fruit–an accessible and charming wine. The Gevrey Combottes had lovely richness and good balance, and while the sample, from a new barrel, showed the oak influence, the finished product will be a mix of old and new. The Charmes Chambertin was very reduced, and a little hard to get at, but the finish was quite pure, the fruit intense and the tannins totally ripe. Opinions differed on whether the Clos St. Denis or Clos de la Roche was the better wine, but even though the Clos de la Roche was very rich and dense, with good minerality and a lot of intensity, I found the Clos St. Denis more elegant, with a silky feeling to it, great balance, and a pure fruit-driven finish. Only the Bonnes Mares seemed unpersuasive on this visit (fitting the pattern previously noted): it had a candied citrus note, medium weight, and seemed not totally knit, the tannins a bit strong.
Clos de Tart. As usual, Sylvain Pitiot presented us with a range of different cuvees, including mid-slope de-stemmed, lower slope whole cluster, press wine, 26-year old vines, very young vines, and the top of the vineyard (which had a very small yield due to oïdium). The latter was clearly the best and most complete of the cuvees, but the blend (excluding the press wine) was far more interesting even than this cuvee, and much more than the sum of the parts. It had deep fruit and spice on the nose, with gingerbread and a hint of tar coming up on the palate, overall with great weight and presence, excellent balancing acidity, and a spicy ripe fruit finish with elevated tannins. It was a very fine wine, though the increasingly aggressive pricing structure that Mommessin is adopting for this domaine does raise questions about the value proposition.
Clos des Lambrays. It was sad to see the empty cellar here, as quantities were down 50% in the red wines (and 80% in the whites). The Morey 1er Cru Les Loups, of which there are only two barrels, was very nice but may never be commercialized. The fruit on the nose of the Clos des Lambrays was very high-pitched, while on the palate this was fairly dense for Lambrays and intense, with strong acidity, and on the finish the tannins seemed a little hard, but as Thierry Bruin pointed out, the wine needs a racking, and he believes that between this, and four more months in barrel, the tannins will emerge far more polished. I do expect that this will eventually be a very good wine.
Château de la Tour. François Labet has for some time now been producing superb Clos de Vougeot, and his own domaine wines, mostly Côte de Beaune reds and whites that are discussed below, have also gotten better and better. He describes 2012 as a bit of a cross between ’09 and ’10, and feels it was perfect for his emphasis on whole cluster fermentation. While I was not sure how well knit the otherwise rich and ripe Clos de Vougeot (which he refers to as cuvee classique) was, the Vieilles Vignes cuvee was superb: there was huge density on the nose, with black cherry, hints of game, cocoa and cinnamon; on the palate it was very dense with huge dry extract and strong minerality, and the significant tannins on the finish were nonetheless highly refined. Even better was the Hommage à Jean Morin. (This wine, first made in 2010, from the first grape cluster above the graft on each vine, is only produced in the best vintages, and only about 600 bottles are made.) On the nose, there was a deep minerality, both red and black fruit, cocoa, and smoke; on the palate, it was even denser than the VV, quite closed but hinting at great depth and richness, with densely textured, refined but significant tannins, and an intense, brambly finish. It will take much longer even than the VV to evolve, and it certainly is different in character from that wine. Is it better, though? I hope to be around in 30 years to find out.
Trapet. Since he began restraining the oak treatment several years back, Jean-Louis Trapet’s wines have gone from strength to strength. While yields were severely reduced in 2012, and some cuvees combined, the resulting wines are extremely good. The Gevrey L’Ostrea, which underneath the gassiness was pure, dense, meaty and spicy, with a dense but pure cherry finish, was particularly good, but it may end up being combined with the Gevrey Village, itself a very nice wine. Also, in 2012, the premiers crus have been combined into a single cuvee (to be called “Alea”), which is quite lovely and well balanced, with spice, cherry fruit, meaty undertones and a very intense minerally finish. The Chapelle Chambertin, despite some reduction, showed a bright pure nose, dense palate impressions, and some mellow tannins under the reduction, leading to a very long finish. The Latricières had a beautiful pure nose and was minerally if a bit Spartan on the palate; though sweet fruit was lurking underneath, this wine seemed a bit monastic next to the Chapelle. The Chambertin was particularly fine, with ripe, intense fruit but also mineral lift, the tannins not insubstantial but quite ripe, and a very persistent finish that combined power and purity.
Bruno Clair. While I have been a fan of this domaine in recent years, I thought that overall they performed a bit below my expectations in 2012—though with some significant exceptions. None of the Marsannays was particularly compelling, and I thought the Savigny Dominodes, usually an excellent wine here, to be a bit lacking in fruit—though to be fair, others liked it a good bit more than I did. Among the various lieux-dits, the standout was the Chambolle Véroilles (the Village version of the 1er cru we had at Barthod). It had a beautiful cherry nose, with good intensity, and on the palate it showed a silky texture, good balance and medium body, plus of course lots of sweet Chambolle fruit—indeed, it seemed almost ready to drink. The Gevrey 1er Crus were better, with a good quality Fontenys and Petite Chapelle, but the quality ramped up significantly with the Gevrey Cazetiers, which had a very strong mid-palate presence, showing both red and black fruit, smoked meats and minerals, a lot of dry extract and ripe tannins, with a long pure spicy finish. The Clos St. Jacques was equally fine though quite distinct, an elegant wine with a really lovely silky quality, supple, pure and delicate but delineated. The Clos de Bèze was, as usual, outstanding, silky and elegant, with pure fruit (but more mineral than fruit driven), extremely refined tannins, and an overall sense of purity. The Bonnes Mares, served last, was not so successful—as I’ve noted earlier, many were not in this vintage—with an off note in the nose that I was not able to identify, and a subtle but disturbing element of sous-bois on the palate, which vitiated the otherwise attractive fruit component of this wine.
Tortochot. This was also a first visit. Chantal Tortochot is engaging, chatty and a font of information on subjects great and small; in fact, despite the moderate number of wines to be tasted, we found ourselves rushed at the end of our usual 1.5 hour visit. Surprisingly, most of the wines, including the premiers crus and two of the grands crus, had recently been bottled. Overall, I found that the wines, like their proprietress, had a good deal of charm but were not always as focused as one might prefer. Among the ones I liked best were the Gevrey Corvées, a soft, balanced and supple wine that was nonetheless hiding a good deal of extract; Gevrey Lavaux St. Jacques, which had delicacy and balance; Gevrey Champeaux, with soft blackberry and blueberry fruit, spice, stones, a touch of meatiness and excellent density; Mazis-Chambertin, with red berries and iron on the nose, was a structured wine, showing its (90%) new oak, but also transparent on the finish–overall it had good intensity; and, from barrel, a very elegant Chambertin, with plenty of material, balanced, long and nuanced. Overall, the proportion of new oak is a bit higher than I’d like, and the wines as I noted a bit more soft-focused, but the prices are extremely reasonable and represent good value.
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering, so what’s not to like about this vintage, at least in the Côte de Nuits. However, as I caution each year, the domaines we visit are at mostly the top of the Burgundy heap, and we tend to drop those that aren’t. It is usually at the negociants that one gets a more accurate picture of the overall quality of the vintage, as—quality-minded as they may be–the sourcing is more variable. As will be seen from the descriptions below, 2012 was not a uniform success, even in the Côte de Nuits.
Drouhin. As those of you who follow this blog know, Drouhin is one of my favorite estates, making wines from its domaine properties that often rival the very best that Burgundy has to offer. But while we saw some superb offerings again this year, Drouhin was surprisingly stingy with its grands crus, so that this year for the first time we did not taste the Grands Echézeaux, Bonnes Mares, or Musigny, as there will be little if any of these wines available. All of the reds we saw (including two very nice Beaunes, the Clos des Mouches rouge and Grèves) were showing well, except for the Griottes-Chambertin, which as usual was very reduced (but nonetheless is likely to be quite fine). The Chambolle 1er Cru, always an excellent value, had a great deal of dense red fruit but good acidity to balance, with lots of spice and a charming strawberry finish. The Clos de Vougeot was quite good, even if overshadowed by two premiers crus: the Vosne Petits Monts, with intense fruit, a complex wine with great mineral lift and energy, and the Chambolle Amoureuses, with a deep cherry nose and a perfumed finish; it was a deep, balanced and elegant wine, and holds its own with the best Amoureuses in this vintage. The Clos de Bèze was powerful and masculine, with great depth and silky tannins; despite its power, it was still an elegant Clos de Bèze.
Faiveley. Apart from a very nice Corton Clos des Cortons Faiveley, most of the wines we saw were from the Côte de Nuits. Overall, while there were a number of outstanding wines, I found some variability here. Among the wines that I particularly liked were the Nuits Damodes, characterized by soft, pure fruit and also soft tannins, seemingly likely to drink early; and the Nuits Les St.-Georges, with an elegant, high-toned nose, a soft center, but good lift and balance, a lot of dry extract, and refined tannins. Of the Chambolles, the Amoureuses stood out: with sweet red fruit and spice, it was plush and charming, with a plummy touch but also a minerally, spicy finish (the Chambolle Beaux Bruns and Charmes, both from purchased fruit, seemed to lack concentration). Gevrey Cazetiers was also very good, with an immense and intense finish, and powerful tannins, but even better, in my view, was the tiny Gevrey Clos des Issarts, with an excellent minerally center, floral and citric notes, good tension and modulated tannins. Among the grands crus, I especially liked the Latricières-Chambertin, hinting at great depth, with excellent lift and tension in the mid-palate, and a soft, elegant finish. (Bernard Hervet found pomegranates in this wine, an interesting observation though I couldn’t quite get there myself.) The Mazis was also excellent, with lots of dry extract, violets, spice, and meat, a penetrating and complex wine; while I slightly preferred the Latricières, several other tasters gave the nod to the Mazis. There was no dispute, however, about the superiority of the Clos de Bèze Ouvrées Rodin, a brilliant success once again, with a nose that sucks you in, hinting at depths that will only reveal themselves fully over time, a creamy texture, a wine that was at once massive and perfectly balanced, with great tension and harmony, silky tannins and an almost endless finish. While the Ouvrées Rodin was first bottled separately in 2010, this may finally prove to be a Bèze to rival Rousseau at the pinnacle of Gevrey.
Bouchard. (Note: the Côte de Beaune reds and whites are reviewed separately below.)
In the Côte de Nuits, Bouchard’s holdings are far less significant, and half of the ten wines we saw were negociant wines. I generally did not find these wines compelling, with the exception of a very fine Echézeaux, with nice citrus, rich fruit, density, good balance, and a very long and spicy finish. The Clos de Vougeot and Nuits Porrets St. Georges also showed promise, though they were a little hard at this point. Typical perhaps of some of the issues of the vintage were the Chambolle Noirots and Vosne Suchots, which both seemed a bit fat and lacking balance, and a Bèze that seemed relatively light and uninteresting.
Jadot. By contrast to Bouchard, but more in keeping with the overall theme of the vintage, here the greater successes seemed to be in the Côte de Nuits. Among the reds of the Côte de Beaune (the whites are discussed separately below), only the Beaune Clos des Ursules stood out for me. However, further north, the Chambolle Baudes was quite transparent, with a rich fruit finish, if tannins that seemed not quite as refined as one might wish. The Gevrey Clos St. Jacques, possibly the best wine of the entire range, had a lovely spicy nose with a touch of grilled meat, and on the palate was very minerally and transparent, with good tension and excellent weight; the tannins were supple and the finish very long. Others liked the Vosne Malconsorts, but I found it pleasant but lacking tension, and the Echézeaux was disappointing, as was the Clos de Vougeot. The Chambolle Amoureuses had a lot of charming fruit, which mostly hid its shortcomings (too much oak on the nose and a bit of heat at the end.) The Bonnes Mares, from a new barrel, had an acetone nose, and a second sample, drawn from a year-old barrel, was less unpleasant but still not what it should be. However, the Grands Echézeaux was supple and enticing, and the Musigny was silky, elegant and balanced on the palate. The Clos St. Denis was also quite fine, with good line and minerality, an elegant nose and a spicy finish. The range of Gevrey grands crus was overall the most successful, particularly the Griottes, with a lot of dry extract and a bright minerally finish, and the Chapelle, with a stony nose that I quite liked and sweet, supple fruit on the palate, with a mineral underpinning. Best was the Chambertin (the Bèze seemed pleasant but soft), with no sharp edges, a supple and charming Cham with ripe and refined tannins.
Camille Giroud. David Croix is an exceptionally talented young winemaker, though as with any winemaker who is mostly dependent on purchased fruit, he is always to some degree going to be at the mercy of the conscientiousness (and competence) of his suppliers. The Côte de Beaune wines are considered below, but while the range of wines in 2012 was quite a bit smaller than usual here, there were some significant successes in the Côte de Nuits. I particularly liked his Vosne Villages, which had bright fruit showing under a fair amount of CO2, good spice and depth, and a silky quality; the Gevrey Lavaux St Jacques, a bit hard to get at because of reduction, but showing great density and an excellent texture, and a particularly fine Chambertin, with a sense of real purity and lift—an elegant Cham, with a spicy, peppery, very long finish.
Côte de Beaune
Marquis d’Angerville. Guillaume d’Angerville was almost mournful as he showed us his nearly empty cellar. Volnay not only suffered badly from hail in 2012, but again in 2013. Guillaume said his average yield in 2012 was about 10 hl/ha, and about 14-15 hl/ha in 2013. Despite press reports, he said, the hail in 2013 was not as destructive as in 2012 (though the 2013 hailstorm cut a wider swath). Because of the small quantities of ‘12s, our tasting was abbreviated this year, but what we saw was of high quality. The Volnay Frémiets had spicy, sweet red fruit and a nice minerally finish, while the Volnay Champans had deeper-pitched fruit, a perfumed note, and good density; it was not quite finished with malo (!) and thus seemed a bit hard at the end but there was a lot of promise. The Clos des Ducs, also not finished with malo, nonetheless was developing a lovely texture, with some rich fruit and a sense of complexity. Guillaume also told us, in a comment echoed by others, that in the past, one would have tasted the effects of the hail (a certain hardness, and also sometimes a ‘mousy’ taste), but that, while the vines do go into shock for a week or so after the storm, the vignerons now do a natural healing treatment, and as long as the hail happens early in the season, the vines are able to produce clean fruit (though triage is still very important). I do have to say that in general, I tasted far less of the ‘gout de grêle’ in this vintage than I expected, though I would also offer two caveats: first, that many wines are showing reduction in November, and so there can be a hardness in the finish of the wine that is not always easy to distinguish between an effect of reduction (which will likely go away) or of hail (which likely won’t). Also, the full effects of this taste are not always apparent in barrel, so that, for example, initial reports on the ‘83s did not always reflect the flavors of hail and rot that were so apparent in the bottled wines.
Lafarge. Perhaps because Michel Lafarge has seen more Burgundy vintages than most still-active vignerons, the Lafarges seemed philosophical about the misfortunes of recent years, though Frédéric Lafarge noted that in 2012, they had about 20% of a normal crop, and that it was the lowest yield his father could remember. He also noted the apparent change in weather patterns: that the hailstorms used to come down the combes and just destroy a narrow sector of the vineyards, but that in 2012, and even more disastrously in 2013, they moved south to north along a wide swath of the Côte. Several wines will not be separately issued in 2012, including the Volnay Vendages Selectionées; all will be in the Volnay Village, which had dark fruit, cinnamon and spice; and the Beaune Aigrots and Grèves, which were blended to make a very intriguing Beaune 1er Cru, with clove, cinnamon and a touch of earth, plus red fruit and a minerally finish. Among the Volnays, there was a ripe and balanced Volnay Mitans, which showed a bit of dry tannin at the end that suggested the effects of the hail; a somewhat light and delicate Volnay Clos du Château des Ducs; a light, tender, but elegant and charming Volnay Caillerets, with a lovely nose of violets and black cherries; and an intensely aromatic Volnay Clos des Chênes, as usual the best of the range, with some strong but ripe tannins and a very long finish.
Comte Armand. Benjamin Leroux told us that, overall, the bad flowering and sunburn caused more loss in 2012 than hail. Yields at this estate in 2012 were 12 hl/ha, but only 8 hl/ha in 2013. As usual, the winemaking here was of an extremely high standard, with a very good Volnay Village, made using 25% whole cluster, which showed excellent fruit and great purity, if a touch of heat at the finish, and an excellent Volnay Frémiets (though only 2 barrels were made), made with 50% whole cluster, showing very ripe plummy fruit on the nose, a lot of complexity and density, and a great mineral finish. We then tasted two different cuvees of Pommard Clos des Epéneaux, and the final blend, which was first-rate: a nose that kept on expanding, with black cherry, minerals, earth and a floral touch, intense fruit on the palate supported by excellent acidity; on the finish, the tannins seemed a bit assertive, though according to Benjamin this reflects the recent addition of SO2 rather than the innate character of the wine.
Chandon de Briailles. Here, Claude de Nicolay cited the mildew and bad flowering as the principal culprits in reducing the crop by half. The Savigny Les Fournaux and Lavières were both good, with the former showing a lot of ripe fruit and transparency, and the latter more stony, with a touch of violet, but the fruit seeming a little suppressed and the acidity more in evidence. The Pernand Ile des Vergelesses was very dense and peppery, with excellent purity and spicy black cherry. The Corton Bressandes, though, was not showing well today and despite some bright fruit, it seemed quite astringent on the finish.
De Montille. Etienne de Montille is a strong believer in the use of whole clusters, and often it serves him well, though I do think there are times (and wines) when he might be better served to throttle back. For example, though the Beaune Grèves had a lot going for it, one also could sense the unripe stems on the nose, and the Volnay Mitans, whether for this or other reasons, seemed on the heavy side for Volnay. However, the Volnay Taillepieds showed great potential: it was intense and dense, with bright acidity and excellent lift, while the Pommard Rugiens was spicy, earthy, with lovely lift to the mid-palate, ripe fruit, and developing along elegant lines; and the Corton Clos du Roi, while still in its shell, was quite dense, with a long ripe fruit finish and moderate tannins. (See above for a review of his Côte de Nuits wines, including the spectacular Vosne Malconsorts Cuvee Christiane, and below for a review of the white wines.)
Senard. The ever-charming Philippe Senard conducted our tasting, though he passed the winemaking duties to daughter Lorraine several years ago. He noted that quantities were about 60% of normal in 2012. The wines here in ’12 are generally of good, though not outstanding, quality. The Aloxe-Corton Les Valozieres had a lot of rich fruit, and some strong but not harsh tannins—a wine that has body and power but needs time. Indeed, the tannins on most of these wines seemed a bit stronger and more persistent than elsewhere, but perhaps that reflects as much the character of the hill of Corton as anything else. The Corton Clos des Meix was dense, with dried herb, cinnamon and bacon notes as well as sweet fruit, and a chocolate touch at the end; the Corton Paulands seemed less successful, but the Bressandes was on form, with pure black cherry fruit and good balance, and the Clos du Roi, which had the deepest color by far, had dense spicy fruit, medium body, notes of cinnamon and smoked meat, and a bit of hard tannin on the finish which nonetheless seemed fairly refined.
Pierre et François Labet. François Labet of Ch. de la Tour also makes wines from his own domaine, which have gotten better and better. Reds include a quite nice Bourgogne Pinot Noir V.V., which had a lot of bright fruit and nice acidic support; a Beaune Marconnets (Village) which had very sweet fruit but a lot of acidity to keep it fresh; and a Beaune Coucherias 1er Cru, which was much more minerally than the Marconnets, with good lift and structure if slightly earthy tannins.
Michel Gaunoux. As always, a terrific visit with the Gaunoux family, but since they do not show unfinished wines, the ‘11s and older wines we tasted are discussed in the addendum to this report.
Bernard Moreau. While the excellent white wines of this domaine are reviewed below, Benoît Moreau did show us a number of their reds, including a Chassagne Village (Vieilles Vignes), Volnay Santenots and Caillerets, and Chassagne La Cardeuse (a monopole). Of these, I found only the last to be interesting; it was intense, rich, minerally and pure, with great fruit expression.
Paul Pillot. From another excellent white wine maker, a straightforward but pleasant Bourgogne and a slightly simple but charming and well-made Chassagne Clos St. Jean.
Bouchard. While overall the reds reflected the mixed results of this vintage in the Côte de Beaune, there were some good wines (Beaune Clos de la Mousse, a delicious fruit-forward wine; Pommard Rugiens, a relatively open-style Pommard) and some standouts: Beaune Teurons, a refined combination of fruit and minerals; Volnay Caillerets Cuvée Carnot, which had a creamy note, good black cherry fruit, spice, minerals and great persistence, if a slight dryness in the back which reflected the hail; and, best of all, the Beaune Grèves Vigne de L’Enfant Jesus, with a refined nose of spice, minerals, red fruit and wheatmeal, refined tannins, and an earthy and rich finish, with good acidity and even better persistence.
Camille Giroud. In general, and not surprisingly, the Côte de Beaune reds were less successful than those of the Côte de Nuits, with an inexpressive Volnay Village, a somewhat clunky Beaune Les Avaux, a much better Beaune Les Cras, with pure bright fruit and a creamy texture, if slightly light on the finish; a Volnay Santenots with some excellent clarity but also the note of toughness I often find in Santenots; and, finally, an excellent Corton Clos du Roi, with good density, some hard Corton tannins but a sense of refinement, a wine which will take time to reveal itself but holds a lot of promise.
A Note on Premature Oxidation (Premox): no end is in sight, nor can it be said that any significant progress has been made. Burgundians seem now to be hunkered down into three camps: those who see the full dimension of the problem and are pushing for more resources to be devoted to it; those who have changed to non-cork closures, and made other adjustments, and who are hoping that they’ve largely solved the problem for their wines (they haven’t, but at least they may have ameliorated it to some degree); and those who still don’t get it. Of course, this is a bit of an oversimplification, but not much. Perhaps the most interesting conversation we had on this subject was with Frédéric Barnier of Jadot. For many years, we had listened to Jacques Lardière be dismissive of the problem (though Pierre-Henry Gagey would dutifully upbraid him each time he was within earshot). Now, Barnier readily acknowledges the problem (its about time, as I have in recent months seen premoxed Jadots in both ’07 and ’08 vintages) and said that they are taking several actions. The first is to move to Diam corks, which he described as sending a message to consumers that they are serious about fixing this problem. But he also described a number of smaller steps that Jadot has taken. His view is that the issues are not so much with the pressing (contrary to a theory with a lot of currency at the moment), or indeed in any of the early stages of winemaking, because wines that are in contact with the lees can absorb a lot more oxygen without ill effect. Rather, he thinks that the wines become much more sensitive to oxidation in the latter stages of the elevage, and consequently Jadot is moving to be more precise in all of the handling of the wines during this phase. I am not sure I fully buy into this—first, the amount of battonage (lees stirring) seems to be a significant predictor of the percentage incidence of premox, and second, most small producers do not have the same issues of distance between tanks and barrels as does a large operation such as Jadot–but the more experimentation, the better. Still, the precise causes of premox remain unknown, the problem is not going away, and whenever one drinks a great aged white, from before the premox era, the sense of loss remains palpable.
Leflaive. Since Pierre Morey’s retirement, this domaine—still thought of as the leading white wine domaine in Burgundy—has turned quite erratic. Once one of the few estates that could boast of a low incidence of premox, it no longer seems immune (in September, two of three bottles of ’07 Bâtard opened at a dinner were showing distinct signs of premox). And in recent years, such as ’11, the quality has been quite variable across the range. Given the significant doubts that have begun creeping in among Leflaive aficionados, it is a pleasure to report that the ‘12s are not only highly successful, but that the quality is evident across the entire range. Quantity, however, is another story; Antoine LePetit told us that quantity was down by about 50% in 2012. While the first hailstorm did not significantly affect Puligny, the early August hail did substantial damage in both Puligny and Meursault. As did others, he described the de-stressing treatments (arnica and valerian), which help the vines recover. Nonetheless, the ratio of juice to skin in the berries was low at harvest. The wines had finished malos by July, been racked in mid-September, and were, as usual, in tank when we tasted them. The quality parade started with the Puligny Villages, which had nice lemon, citrus, spice and floral notes and a lot of dry extract at the end–a wine that will need a few years of cellaring. While the Meursault Sous de Dos D’Ane did not seem fully knit, the Puligny Clavoillon was a particularly fine example of this climat: pure, floral, with good minerality, well balanced, and more elegant than usual for this often slightly blunt wine. The Folatières was, to me, the standout among the premiers crus, with a deep nose, a complex balanced palate with notes of minerals, flowers, cherry, spice and citrus—a wine with a lot of weight yet no heaviness, and a powerful finish. The Combettes and Pucelles were also very fine, with the former showing a deeper pitched minerality on the nose, intensity, purity, power and tension–a wine that is holding a lot in reserve; the latter was much more discreet, with spice, lime, and a soft floral entry concealing a lot of dry extract behind. Both the Bienvenues and the Bâtard were first-rate, the former with excellent volume, purity and lift—a relatively powerful Bienvenues, with a lot of dry extract, and clearly needing time to develop; the latter rich and exceptionally dense, with flowers, lime, minerals and butterfat, great balance, a citrus kiss, good mineral lift and tension, and a pure finish. The Chevalier was even better, with a discreet white flower nose, still unevolved but suggesting subtlety and balance, a complex fruit center and then penetrating minerality on an extended finish, a wine also needing a good deal of time to develop fully.
Guy Roulot. At Roulot, some wines were still in malo and so not shown; the wines we saw had been racked in mid-September. Overall, quantity was down about 60%, though less for the premiers crus. The Meursault Vireuils had not yet settled down and Jean-Marc admitted it was too early to taste this. However, the Meix Chavaux was quite nice, with a nutty, minerally quality balanced by white flowers and a touch of butterfat. The Luchets was a total contrast to the Meix Chavaux, denser and more intensely minerally, if perhaps lacking a little fruit, while the Tessons was large-framed, with good grip—still a bit closed, but with lots of material. The Clos des Boucheres was hiding under a blanket of SO2, but seemed to have a lot going for it, with excellent length and balance. The Perrières was very stony and intense, with a lot of dry extract and with sweet fruit, citrus and spice coming up on the long finish—this should be a very fine wine in time.
De Montille. Here too, quantities were down significantly, by around 60% in the whites (as well as in Volnay and Pommard). Etienne described his ’12 whites as very dense, with a thick texture and a lot of acidity; alcohol levels were generally under 13%. Malos were also quite late, and some were just finishing. Overall, I did not find the Château de Puligny wines compelling, though there was a fine St. Aubin En Remilly, with excellent presence, sweet fruit, good mineral lift and a long finish. The two Domaine whites, however, were showing very well, including a very nice Corton-Charlemagne with good balance and an especially lovely finish combining pears and minerals, and an extremely fine Puligny Caillerets, which had only recently finished malo: while the nose was relatively unevolved as yet, the palate showed rich fruit, great density, strong but not overpowering acidity and a long complex finish that hinted at greater things to come.
Latour-Giraud. The crop was down a bit over 50% here in 2012. Jean-Pierre’s malos were late, and the Meursault Perrières had still not finished (he said that some estates had finished malos in March, but we did see a lot of late malos this vintage). Jean-Pierre sees the same concentration as in the ‘10s, but believes there will be more fruit in the ‘12s. The Meursault Cuvée Charles Maxime was still turbid and not showing, while the Narvaux showed more purity but was still in a phase where it was difficult to taste. The Meursault Charmes, which had finished its malo two months earlier, was very fine, with sweet fruit on the nose, a lot of material underneath–a light, elegant wine, though the minerality came up on the long finish. The Meursault, which had only finished its malo two weeks earlier, nonetheless was exhibiting elegance, excellent lift, and purity under the lees and acidity, and showed excellent promise. The Meursault Genevrières Cuvée des Pierres, which had finished malo the end of August, was large-framed, with a pure nose of black cherry, flowers, minerals and a touch of beeswax, a bold, massively structured wine with lots of acidity, but also a very rich finish of peaches, pears, citrus and minerals. It will be interesting to watch these wines develop.
Bernard Moreau. In Chassagne, the problem was not so much hail but, according to Benoît Moreau, sunburned, or grilled, grapes, which happened in late August. Quantities were 50-70% of normal. The first two wines, in bottle, were a forgettable Bourgogne Chardonnay but a good St. Aubin 1er Cru Sous Roche Dumay, which had a nice floral quality and good purity. However, things quickly got better, with a stunningly fine and complex St. Aubin 1er Cru En Remilly, with impeccable balance and transparency; it had a good balance of fruit and flowers but I particularly admired its raciness and long minerally finish. If the quality translates into bottle, this should be a great value. The Chassagne Village seemed a little unbalanced to acid, but the Chassagne Maltroie, while also showing a lot of acidity, had a good creamy texture to it, and the Chassagne Vergers also showed a bit of acidity sticking out on the finish, despite good spice, creamy apple and citrus notes. The Chassagne Chenevottes and Champgains were both a step up, with the former showing a beautiful floral quality and better balance, plus a creamy, spiced pear finish, and the latter pitched very differently, with richer fruit than the Chenevottes and a complex finish. The best of the premiers crus were the Chassagne Morgeots (a blend of Fairendes and La Cardeuse, from opposite ends of the appellation), which had a complex nose showing spice, blackberries and brambles as well as stones, while on the palate it showed more flowers as well, and was complete and balanced; and the Grands Ruchottes, from 75 year old vines, a creamy, elegant wine, with deep minerality and black cherry fruit on the nose, perfumed in the middle, and sweet peaches and spice on the extremely long and elegant finish. The Bâtard Montrachet, still in barrel, had a huge sweet stone fruit nose, and combined balance and powerful minerality on the palate with an intense, complex, creamy and spicy finish. The Chevalier Montrachet was very minerally, pure and fine, with excellent line, a classy wine. Overall, despite a few off notes, this domaine was highly successful in 2012.
Paul Pillot. Here too, the crop was heavily reduced, by 50-75% depending on the vineyard. Overall, the range was good, though only a handful were outstanding. The two St. Aubin 1er Crus, Pitangerets and Charmois, were both nice examples, the former in a lighter style that would make a charming aperitif, the latter somewhat denser, soft, floral and spicy, with a bit of acidity at the back. The Chassagne Mazures was also soft, round and accessible, a crowd-pleaser and for early drinking, while the Champgains had more acidity and a minerally nose, but was nonetheless floral and pretty, if a little short, and the Clos St. Jean was also soft and charming, a middle-weight wine with a touch of spice and a lot of white flowers. The Chassagne Caillerets was more serious, with a stony, citric nose, floral and elegant, light but with charm, and a bit of clove on the finish. The next wines were being given additional barrel aging, something Thierry Pillot says he would like to do more of: the Grand Ruchottes was much richer and with more body than the prior wines, with notes of lemon, blackberry, white flowers, peach, pepper and stones, and a creamy note on the finish; and the Grand Montagne, with a lot of spice, had a saline quality and was large-framed, with citrus notes, good acidity, and a developing creamy finish—not quite together yet but with good promise. At the top of the premiers crus was the Chassagne La Romanée, which had a very pure nose of cherry, cream, spice, minerals and beeswax; on the palate it was rich, with lemon, white flowers and a creamy touch, a wine that is very balanced, long, and bidding for elegance—it has power but is hiding it. The Bâtard (one barrel) showed some of the new oak, and had a lot of power and acidity but kept its feet, with a bold, spicy finish—a wine that needs time.
Senard. The Aloxe-Corton blanc is a curiosity, being made from Pinot Gris. The nose was saline, with a not unpleasant seaweed note, while on the palate there was sweet fruit and strong, but not overpowering, acidity, and a long finish. Overall, I enjoyed this wine. Philippe Senard noted that Pinot Gris was originally planted in predominantly red wine vineyards (typically making up 5-8% of the vineyard and interplanted with the Pinot Noir), because it matured earlier and provided more sugar and glycerol. The Corton Blanc had an excellent nose of spice, minerals and beeswax, as well as white flowers, though the acidity seemed a bit high in the middle. The Corton-Charlemagne had a minerally, white flower nose, well balanced on the palate and, though slightly lean towards the back end, had good tension.
Bonneau du Martray. The ’12 crop will be about ¼ of normal, and will be bottled in 3-packs rather than 12 bottle cases. The wine had been racked once, and was still on its lees. Bright spice jumped out of the glass, and on the palate this was very minerally, perfumed, with a melon touch that hinted at a potential issue of over-ripeness. Good, but I doubt this will be anywhere close to the ’10 in quality.
Francois Carillon. Carillon said his 2012s were down 50% in quantity and he preferred to show us his 2011s, which are discussed in the addendum to this report.
Lafarge. A decent Bourgogne Aligoté Raisins Dorées and Meursault, and a very fine Beaune Aigrots, subtle, sweet and well balanced, with very pure minerals and white flowers.
Domaine des Lambrays. Only 20% of a normal crop in 2012, so the Puligny Folatières and Clos du Caillerets will be combined into a single Puligny Premier Cru. Despite a spicy and floral nose, this seemed a bit sappy on entry and also a bit searing in acidity both in the middle and on the finish.
Mugnier. Despite hail issues, a very nice Nuits Clos de la Maréchale Blanc in 2012, very minerally and spicy, dense and quite interesting, floral, and a touch earthy; though it has a slight hard edge, there is a lot of complexity here.
Ponsot. Fans of Laurent’s Mont Luisants will be distressed to learn that this wine was not produced in 2012, as oïdium from the woods destroyed most of the crop. However, his Corton-Charlemagne, while substantially reduced in volume, was excellent: the nose was densely minerally but with a nice floral touch; on the palate, sweet fruit was balanced by a lot of minerality, and the finish was quite spicy and refined.
Pierre et François Labet. Best were a well-crafted Bourgogne Blanc Vieilles Vignes (from Beaune and Chorey) and a very fine Beaune Marconnets, charming, floral, minerally, balanced, pure, spicy and very persistent.
Bouchard. I found this range more spotty than usual, though not without some successes. The Meursault Charmes and Genevrières had a lot going for them, but also a slightly bready note on the noses that I could not quite identify but that made me wonder about their future. Among the premiers crus, my strong favorite was the Puligny Combettes (a negociant wine; new this year), with gingerbread and other spice on the nose, sweet fruit, a creamy texture, excellent balance and good length. Others were more enthusiastic about the Corton-Charlemagne than I: while it was pleasant, it seemed to me to be a bit on the light side for this appellation and not quite as knit as it might be. The regular Chevalier was a disappointment, and the Montrachet seemed heavy and unforthcoming, hinting at greater depth but certainly not showing it today. Nonetheless, La Cabotte (once in Montrachet, so the story goes, now in Chevalier; both but neither) was, by contrast, showing extremely well—precise, with pure minerality, white flowers, balanced, restrained and elegant on the nose while richer and more honeyed on the palate, balanced with razor-sharp acidity in the back, and with an exceptionally long finish.
In sharp contrast to the Côte de Beaune whites, the Chablis from William Fèvre were, at the top levels, positively exciting. While neither the Vaulorent, regular Bougros nor Vaudésir were in balance, the Bougros Côte Bouguerots was serious and precise, and the Valmur, Preuses and Clos were all outstanding. The Valmur had great depth, with characteristic iron and flint notes, but was balanced, with sweet fruit and a nice soft touch in the middle before the long flinty finish. The Preuses had more gingerbread and gunflint in the nose, plus pears and hints of plum; it had excellent weight and balance and good complexity; the only nit was a slight excess of acidity on the finish. The Clos was the most complete, and despite some reduction on the nose, which eventually opened to chalk and gingerbread, it was very precise, with a light lemon touch added on the palate and a very long finish that echoed all the notes of the nose and mid-palate.
Drouhin. Also an abbreviated, if decidedly mixed, range of whites here. We started with Chablis, and if the Vaudésir here, like the Fèvre, was not well balanced, the Clos was showing very well—slate and spice on the nose, melon and peaches on the palate, and a complex finish with excellent mineral cut. I found the Puligny Folatières soft and fleshy, with a banana hint, and greatly preferred the Chassagne Morgeot Marquis de LaGuiche, which had a lovely minerally, white flower nose, excellent lift and balance and a spicy finish. The Montrachet Marquis de LaGuiche was quite nice, with a deep penetrating minerality on the nose but also a subdued floral component, the minerality almost reminiscent of a great Chablis; on the palate, it was far softer, with a lot of sweet fruit, fully integrated, and with a finely delineated finish.
Faiveley. Yet another decidedly mixed range of whites. Both Chablis, the Preuses and the Clos, lacked grip. The two Meursault 1er Crus, Blagny and Charmes, were very pleasant, the latter more floral and buttery. I quite liked the Puligny Garenne (a domaine wine), which was very precise, with touches of lemon and white flowers and very nice minerality. The Bienvenues had a charming floral nose and was on the soft side, while the Bâtard started well but then seemed to go a bit flat in the middle. The Corton-Charlemagne was intensely minerally, huge, spicy and very long, if slightly on the acidic side.
Camille Giroud. We saw a small range of whites, but it included a charming Meursault Poruzots, with white flowers, spice and butterfat, and an excellent Chassagne Tête du Clos, with bright, knife-edge acidity balanced by floral and peach notes, slightly dry but very high-toned.
Jadot. Jacques Lardière, who officially retired last year, has now been dispatched to head the newly purchased Jadot operations in Oregon, and Frédéric Barnier is firmly in charge. Nonetheless, Barnier claims he has changed nothing. (One hopes this is just the party line; while the Jadot wines are, overall, of decent quality, there is plenty of room for improvement. The Maison does not lack the resources; one hopes it will find the will.) With respect to 2012, he cited oïdium as the key problem. He also said that, with respect to the whites, little juice and extreme richness threatened to produce heavy wines, and that the challenge was to keep some liveliness in the wines, citing this as a reason for stopping the malos in ’12. The problem with this line of argument is two-fold. First, Jadot’s practice under Lardière had been to stop the malos in every vintage (to quote from my report on the Jadot 2010 whites: “Jacques Lardière felt that the usual practice here of blocking completion of the malolactic fermentation of the whites was particularly justified this year, as it preserved the acidity and freshness of these wines and kept them from becoming top-heavy.” Anybody out there finding ’10 whites to be top-heavy? I didn’t think so). That either makes Barnier’s observation disingenuous, or points towards perhaps a more judicious use of the technique in the future (again, one can only hope). Second, the results do not seem to justify the technique either: acidity was not generally lacking in ’12, and too many of the Jadot whites I tasted suffered from an excess of malic acidity—tart green apple notes that were not adequately buffered by the fruit—and I say this as someone who likes his whites to have freshness and racy acidity. This was immediately obvious in the first two wines we tasted, the Meursault Genevrières and Perrières, and perhaps was even more frustrating in the Chassagne Morgeots Clos de la Chapelle and Chassagne La Romanée, both of which had a lot to offer in the way of floral qualities and mineral notes, but that left a rough, unfinished impression. The Pulignys were better, including the Folatières (Héritiers Louis Jadot, from higher on the slope; there is also a regular version), which had a lovely floral/mineral nose, and despite slight tartness, the acidity was very racy and the finish spicy and long; and Combettes, where the apple notes were more integrated and the wine, overall, soft and generous, a crowd-pleaser with soft sweet fruit. I also liked the Bâtard (others preferred the Bienvenues), which had enough fruit to carry the tartness, a long sweet fruit finish, and was complex and interesting, but in either case, quantities are miniscule. The Chevalier Demoiselles (about 40% of normal production) had an excellent discreet floral nose, a lot of density and body, and good balance. Le Montrachet was also good, with a rich, honeyed apple crisp nose, a little tropical fruit (pineapple) on the palate, lots of material, a dry acidic knife edge, and a creamy finish with spice at the very end and a touch of tannin. The Corton-Charlemagne should not have been shown last; it was blowsy in the middle and then had an overly acidic edge that burned onto the finish.
For comments on the 2011s, and other impressions, please see the addendum to this report, which should be available within the next few weeks.
© 2013 Douglas E. Barzelay
The 2011 vintage in Burgundy produced a substantial number of wines that are charming, friendly, and easy to drink, yet do not lack substance. Several producers used the word “gourmand” to describe the ‘11s in comparison to the ’10s, an expression that is not easily translatable but roughly speaking means that the ‘11s more readily give pleasure, are easier to approach and more facile than the ‘10s. However, the results were not uniform. There are wines–even at the better addresses–that can range from vapid to unbalanced, while at the same time, there are also a few domaines that succeeded in making wines that are quite serious and can stand with those of the great vintages that preceded 2011. Overall, the wines of 2011 will be welcome while one waits for the 2009s and 2010s (and the 2005s) to reach maturity, and while the 2011 crop was itself not large, it will of necessity fill a gap in the market resulting from the tiny harvest of 2012.
The growing season of 2011 was quite similar to that of 2007, although preceded by a colder winter. There was summer heat in April, which advanced the flowering, and heat into June (when for a few long days it became so hot there were some grapes that got roasted). However, July was cool and wet, and August mostly cool, with some rain just before the (very early) harvest commenced at the end of August. Fair weather continued through the harvest and the grapes were generally brought in in very good condition, though a lot of spraying had been necessary in the summer to avoid rot. Ladybugs, which had turned out to be a problem in 2004 when they got crushed in large numbers along with the under-ripe grapes, returned in swarms in 2011. This time, however, most domaines were prepared, with a sorting table that shakes, so that the ladybugs (and other insects) drop off. The degree of alcohol was acceptable if slightly low—a lot of growers mentioned levels in the 12-12.5% range, and many chaptalized to get the levels up a half degree or so. It is worth noting that 2011 was the third harvest in the past 10 years that began in August (the others being ’03 and ’07), whereas not a single vintage of the 20th Century began before September. However, despite the similar growing seasons, the 2011 reds are generally more substantial than the charming if somewhat superficial 2007s.
Yields were well below normal (whatever “normal” is), and overall, as one vigneron noted, many domaines have lost, during the period ’10, ’11 and ’12, the equivalent of one full harvest or more.
Generalizations about 2011 seem less easy than in many vintages, and for every attempt at one, there are numerous exceptions. Nonetheless, let me hazard a few: first, I think this is a white wine vintage made for the age of premox, in that there are many lovely whites, with excellent floral and fruit qualities and enough acid to balance, yet they seem as though they will mature and give pleasure early–a few of the good premiers crus even seemed ready to go to table now. That’s a mixed blessing for those of us who are still drinking the ‘82s and ‘85s (and even the occasional ’61 or ’55) with pleasure, but it is what this vintage has provided. And, as will be seen from the notes, there are some whites that have an extra dimension, and that will likely stand the test of time.
While the majority of the reds seem to be friendly and relatively approachable in 2011, there were a surprising number of wines whose tannins were sufficiently astringent to raise questions about whether the light fruit would still be there once the tannins became resolved. Nonetheless, overall I would expect these wines to act something like the 2000s, in that they will give pleasure early on, but will hold and even potentially improve for a decade or more (and, again as a generality, they seem better balanced than the 2000s). And among the reds, as among the whites, there are wines with extra dimensions—mainly in the Côte de Nuits, including most notably the DRCs and Ponsots but others as well, discussed more fully in the notes below. Nonetheless, as great as these wines are, where we were able to taste the ‘10s from the same producer, the latter simply have a certain éclat that even the best ‘11s will not be able to match.
A Look Back at 2010:
Wherever time allowed, we asked to taste some 2010s to see how they were developing. Although it would seem as though some are starting to shut down, overall, this remains a remarkable vintage, notable for a harmony, purity, balance–and restraint–that is rarely achieved in Burgundy. It is a vintage whose charms are not as readily apparent as, for example, those of 2009, but if this is, as I said last year, a connoisseur’s vintage, it is also without doubt a great one. As one young winegrower said, “this is the vintage I had always hoped to make during my lifetime–I just did not expect it would come so early.”
Specific notes on the 2010s we tasted are included in the reviews below.
A Note About the Tastings:
Each November, I and other members of the National Wine Committee of the Commanderie d’Amérique de la Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin (whew, that’s a mouthful!) spend about 2 ½ weeks tasting the prior year’s vintage out of barrel. We visit around 40 producers during our stay. As many as that is, it is a selective list of producers, and no substitute for the far more comprehensive reviews of professional critics, such as Allen Meadows or John Gilman. And while I try to be as objective as I can, a lot of the people we visit have become personal friends, and it is human nature to treat your friends a bit more gently when they stray off course than you would a stranger. Finally, I would mention two other caveats: first, time and again, a winemaker will say to us, that a certain wine tasted better (or worse) the week or month before, and it is in the nature of young wines that they change and shift, sometimes slowly and at other times rapidly, so that a snapshot taken on, say November 15th, could be very different from one taken at a different time. This is further complicated by the differences that may occur between barrels of a particular wine (especially between new and older oak), though the more conscientious producers will often mix a sample of two or more barrels to taste. Second, I am often asked if its really possible to divine a wine’s future from a barrel sample. Clearly, years of experience–watching wines grow up, and seeing where you got something right, or where you might have missed the importance of something else–is an advantage. Nonetheless, predicting the future course of maturation of a young wine is a bit like predicting the future course of maturation of a toddler–sometimes their major character traits are obvious from a very young age, and sometimes they grow up in ways you never anticipate. And while professional critics get paid to make definitive judgments, one of the nice things about being an amateur is that you can admit that what you’re doing is making an educated guess based on a snapshot. I make no claim beyond that for these notes.
Côte de Nuits:
Bruno Clair. Philippe Brun, who conducted the tasting, noted that the reds had at the beginning seemed to lack a bit of material, but that they had put on weight in the barrel as they sat on the lees. The wines were mostly in need of a racking, and possibly as a result some of them seemed a bit hard, which is not a virtue in this generally easy-going vintage. For example, the Gevrey Clos des Fontenys seemed raw-boned and overly tannic, but the Gevrey Petite-Chapelle, which was shown next, was much more balanced and transparent. The Clos St. Jacques also had a fair amount of tannin, but there was real elegance here and enough material to last, which is fortunate as this wine will take 10 years or so to develop. The Clos de Bèze was also excellent, a lighter-weight Bèze but with a good balance of fruit and minerality, and the Bonnes Mares had a quintessential Bonnes Mares nose, medium weight, and an elegant finish. While not as profound as these wines were in ’10 and ’09, they should be excellent in the medium term. (Among other wines tasted here, a Savigny Dominodes also stood out for its dense and pure black fruit, though it will take time to resolve the tannins.)
A ’10 Gevrey Cazetiers, the only ’10 that we retasted, was very pure on the nose and finish, with great depth of fruit and mineral lift; a substantial amount of tannin suggests this wine will take 10 years at least to come around (93).
Clos de Tart. As usual, we had an interesting tasting of the components of this wine, 7 in all, with vines of varying age and percentages of whole bunches, as well as different parts of the vineyard. The whole was, however, much more than just a sum of the parts. It had a spicy gingerbread nose; on the palate it was quite pure and intense, rich but with excellent acidic lift, and the tannins on the finish were ripe and polished; this will be an excellent Clos de Tart even if it does not quite have the intensity of the very best vintages.
The 2010 showed dense black fruit and minerals on the nose, with the characteristic gingerbread note; it was medium-bodied but had great balance and depth of fruit, and a long, pure spicy finish with moderate tannins (92+).
Dujac. These wines were highly successful in 2011. Perhaps the weak showing here back in ’07 served as a wake-up call; in any event, since then the Domaine seems to have been producing consistently better wines. Despite the usual reduction one encounters here at this time of year, the wines were mostly accessible and the results first-rate for the vintage. The Vosne Beaumonts was showing reasonably well, with spicy dark fruit on the nose; it was a bit spread out on the palate with some slightly aggressive tannins, but was best on the sweet, spicy finish. However, the Malconsorts was a big step up, with lovely dense black fruit and spice on the nose, excellent acidic lift supporting the fruit on the palate, the tannins strong but modulated; it did show some markings of the new oak barrel but the ultimate blend will be about 2/3 new and 1/3 one year old barrels. The Echézeaux was also very fine, though the Charmes-Chambertin was quite unforthcoming, at least for now (Diana quite aptly described it as “grouchy”). The Clos St. Denis, however, was brilliant, its nose calm and silky, its palate pure and elegant, with ripe, charming, serious fruit and silky tannins. It slightly outshone the Clos de la Roche, which seemed to have a bit harder tannins and more evident oak on the finish; nonetheless, the CDLR was a very fine wine with a good deal of finesse and transparency. The Bonnes Mares was also excellent, dense, pure, but with some heavyweight tannins that will need time to resolve. The Chambertin was at another level, a medium-weight Cham but really elegant and silky, with a very long minerally finish. It takes nothing away from any of these wines, however, to say that the Romanée-St.-Vivant was the best wine in the house, with a wonderful nose of red and black fruit and intense spice; on the palate, notwithstanding a fairly high level of tannin, it had a wonderful equilibrium and purity, and a bright finish which needs more time to develop but for now it displayed a subdued, almost sneaky length.
Grivot. Etienne Grivot gets my vote as the most improved winemaker in the Côte de Nuits. As he himself will admit, his style has been evolving towards more elegant wines, while still retaining a good sense of energy (“energy” is a frequently-used buzzword in Burgundy; I think of it as precision and vibrancy). Among the Village-level wines in ’11, I liked the Vosne, the Nuits Les Lavières and the Vosne Bossières, all in the lighter style of the vintage but showing good balance and, in the case of the Bossières, a degree of elegance. Among the premiers crus, standouts included the Nuits Boudots for its purity, volume and transparent fruity/minerally finish; the Vosne Brulées had real silkiness, spice and a touch of smoke, as well as a high-toned minerally finish and modulated tannins; the Vosne Beaumonts had an extra dimension to the fruit on the nose and the palate was less restrained and more lavish than the wines that preceded it, though it seemed to lighten up slightly on the finish; and the Vosne Reignots had great balance and excellent tension; a good deal more tannin than the other 1er crus, but deeper and more intense as well. However, my personal favorite was the seldom-seen Vosne Romanée Les Rouges (located in Flagey- Echézeaux), which had a beautiful deep spicy red fruit nose, lovely transparency, a silky quality and a lingering finish. The Clos de Vougeot was, as usual, an intense heavyweight, with chewy tannins, which will take a long time to come around. I was not certain about the future of the Echézeaux, which was characterized by some severe tannins that may prove to be a bit much for this vintage, but the tannins on the Richebourg, though prominent, were much silkier, and the wine itself had power and transparency; only a slight lightening at the finish betrayed the influence of the vintage.
We also tasted several of the 2010s: Vosne Beaumonts, with a complex Asian spice nose, silky fruit and a long spicy soy finish (92); Nuits Boudots, with a profound nose, great balance, earth and animal notes in addition to sweet red fruit—this was intense without being ponderous (93); Clos de Vougeot, with a dense nose of blackstrap molasses—to me this wine had too much molasses and chocolate despite its good mineral lift, but time will tell (90?); Echézeaux, which was sweet, elegant and harmonious, almost dancing across the palate and with silky tannins (93+); and finally, a spectacular Richebourg, with a fabulous complex nose, great lift and intensity and supple tannins, it is an elegant and graceful Richebourg, with an almost endless finish (96).
Hudelot-Noellat. Overall, a very nice range of wines that epitomize, even if they do not transcend, the vintage. Both the Bourgogne and the Vosne Village were very good for their respective appellations, while the Vougeot 1er Cru, which has been a good value here in recent years, had a lot of sweet fruit, and seemed, to quote one taster, “more Chambolle than Chambolle.” The Nuits Meurgers had a red fruit nose that jumped out of the glass and, while it seemed slightly fruit-forward on the palate, had a lot of charm; tannin levels seemed low, and the finish a tad light, but overall this will drink early and well, and I preferred it to the Chambolle Charmes, which was soft and ready to drink but perhaps lighter than it should be. The three Vosne premier crus were very fine as always; this year, I preferred the Suchots, which seemed deeper pitched than the Beaumonts or even Malconsorts, and more structured, with refined tannins. You could feel the positive effect of stems in this wine (about 20% whole cluster, also in the Clos de Vougeot and RSV; expect to see more use of whole cluster in the future here.) This is not to slight the Beaumonts, which while forward and approachable was tout en finesse, while the Malconsorts was denser than either of its stablemates and had a more refined nose though to me it seemed a touch on the heavy side for this appellation. The Clos de Vougeot had a very pure nose, bright red fruit, and good transparency though it seemed a bit light and had a fair amount of sucrosity at the finish. I quite liked the Romanée-St-Vivant, which while not deep or profound had great charm, with sweet red cherry fruit and spice, good minerality, and enough tannin to keep but not overwhelm it. The Richebourg, which showed a lot of allspice and clove on the nose and a tropical fruit touch on the finish, was relatively light-bodied yet still managed to develop some power and intensity—while it was a bit odd at the moment, I had the feeling this wine was going through a phase, and would repay retasting at a later time.
The ‘10s tasted here had quite high levels of SO2, which made them a bit difficult to evaluate (especially the Clos de Vougeot), but I felt that both the RSV and Richebourg had great transparency and elegance; these will need time to develop but could become 95-96 point wines. Nonetheless, no other ’10 reds that I tasted had anywhere near these levels of SO2.
Domaine des Lambrays. Thierry Brouin told us that there had been a high level of ladybugs at the time of harvest (in 2004, a number of producers believe their wines ended up having an unpleasant taste resulting from the large number of ladybugs that got crushed along with the grapes). However, he and other producers were ready this year, with a sorting table that vibrates and in effect shakes the bugs off; Thierry had boxes full of ladybugs and other insects after the process. Certainly they did not affect the quality of the ‘11s here, which is high. The Village Morey was quite nice, pure Morey fruit and good weight. The Morey 1er Cru, the last of this young vines cuvée of Clos des Lambrays, had deep cherry and spice on the nose, more depth on the palate than expected, and a long, spicy pure finish; depending on price, this could be an excellent value for early drinking. The Clos des Lambrays, with rich sweet fruit but a lot of tannin, was not quite as pure or elegant as the 1er Cru might have led one to expect, but the wine itself was rich, complex and full. The ’10 was very spicy on the nose, with minerals and a hint of mustard seed; on the palate it was intense, layered and powerful for Lambrays, with a strong minerally spine and a fair amount of refined tannins (94).
Liger-Belair. This was another successful range from Louis-Michel Liger-Belair, including some truly impressive wines. While the Vosne Village and Colombières each seemed slightly insubstantial, the Vosne Clos du Château was excellent–balanced, with good weight, medium tannins, and a lovely fruit and mineral finish. Louis-Michel is continuing his experimentation with whole clusters, adding 20% to both the Vosne Suchots and Brulées, to excellent effect. The Suchots was quite minerally, with fine lift and balance–pure, fresh and very long–while the Brulées (only one barrel, and sadly, not commercially available) took a bit of time to open, then became very pure, with excellent black fruit and a very spicy, peppery, rich and intense finish. I also particularly liked the Vosne Petits Monts, which was an elegant, balanced and serious wine, with medium tannins. Better still was the Vosne Reignots: with very dense black fruit, spice, minerals and tar on the nose, and excellent density also on the palate, it had great mineral lift, and was almost reminiscent of a 2010, if a tad heavier; the finish was pure and crystalline, with refined tannins. The Echézeaux was also very good, if not necessarily better than the top premiers crus, but the La Romanée was, not surprisingly, in its own league: intense, complex, dense without being heavy, with a pure and extremely long finish hinting at coffee cream and very polished and refined tannins that almost seemed to disappear into the depths of this wine.
Meo-Camuzet. There seems to be a significant quality difference here between the negociant and Domaine wines, with the latter being quite promising in this vintage. Interestingly, Jean-Nicolas told us (as did Freddy Mugnier) that he would no longer do the élevage on barrels of Hospices wines. Both felt that the quality of the wines from the Hospices was not at the standard of their own wines, and that there was little they could contribute during the élevage to the ultimate quality of the wines, while being held responsible should the wines fall short of expectations.
Among the wines from the Domaine that I liked this year were a pure and interesting Nuits Village; excellent examples of both Nuits Boudots and Meurgers, the Boudots brooding and intense and the Meurgers even denser and longer, but both with lovely transparent finishes; a Clos de Vougeot that had excellent mineral lift, a bit of hard tannin (though not nearly so much as Grivot’s), but also structure and tension; a good Corton Clos Rognet, well structured but again some hard, though not unrefined, tannins; and a really fine Vosne Cros Parantoux, its minerally nose suffused with complex fruit, a touch coiled today, but with drive, intensity and an aristocratic finish with very refined tannins. The Richebourg was done in a more elegant style, but the power and density eventually came through on the palate and it was precise and intense on the finish. While there was some initial reluctance to show the Vosne Brulées because it was quite reduced, it nonetheless possessed an excellent texture, fine balance, and great promise.
We also tasted together the ’10 and ’09 Corton Perrières, the ’10 slightly reduced but minerally, pure, with a smoky note followed by red fruit and a lovely pure minerally finish (93), while the ’09, which had been opened earlier, showed more smoky, bacon notes, mocha and spice, with a fair amount of tannin—-more intense and richer than the ’10, but it retained good structure and kept its feet. Very different in style but I scored it the same as the ’10 (93).
Georges Mugneret-Gibourg. The Mugneret sisters made highly successful wines in 2011, which will come as no surprise to anyone who follows this brilliant, yet still underappreciated, domaine. The Bourgogne was deep colored, with rich black fruit and a hint of truffle–a particularly excellent Bourgogne. The Vosne Village, often a great bargain, seemed nice but not special this time around, but the Nuits Village (from Au Bas de Combe, next to Clos des Réas) was excellent, with penetrating black fruit, cool minerality, and an excellent finish. The Nuits Vignes Rondes and the Nuits Chaignots both seemed built for early drinking, with soft fruit and good balance on the Vignes Rondes and richer fruit and more mineral lift on the Chaignots. The Chambolle Feusselottes was lighter than the Chaignots but finer, while the Gevrey 1er Cru (young vines Ruchottes; this is the last year for this cuvée) had good purity even if it was slightly lighter-bodied as befits the vintage. The Ruchottes-Chambertin had a lovely floral nose; on the palate, it was large and powerful, with notes of meat and soy in addition to the sweet fruit and mineralit–it perhaps lacked a little precision but was an excellent, broad-shouldered wine. The Echézeaux was a bit less forthcoming than the other wines, the fruit perhaps a bit attenuated right now (in looking at my notes, I see that this seems characteristic of most of the Echézeaux I tasted, other than the DRC–whether it is because this vineyard did less well in ’11, or was just not showing as well, I am unsure). The Clos de Vougeot was typically excellent, with a rich red fruit nose, real Grand Cru weight and intensity, more structure and delineation than most, with a very spicy and transparent finish and some serious but refined tannins. Overall (with some competition from the Château de la Tour Vielles Vignes), this was the best Clos de Vougeot we tasted.
The 2010s are predictably first-rate here. The Bourgogne tasted more like an excellent Village wine (89), the Vosne Village was rich and needed time to develop (89+), the Chaignots was a bit light but elegant for Nuits, the fruit slightly suppressed by some serious tannins (90), while the Vignes Rondes, though not as rich as Chaignots, was higher-toned and more minerally (90) and the Chambolle Feusselottes was quite pure, with excellent balance and a brilliant finish (91-92). The Ruchottes-Chambertin was showing excellent black cherry, great acidic lift, and was very transparent and quite elegant for Ruchottes, with a long finish (94). It was followed by a somewhat awkward and slightly reduced Echézeaux (NR), and then another outstanding Clos de Vougeot, with an intense nose, elegant, primary fruit, suave tannins, and a very long, elegant, pure finish (95).
Mugnier. Very fine wines here, as usual. In general, they were (not surprisingly) not as intense and deeply pitched as the ‘10s, though more accessible and without a lot of tannin in evidence. Freddy was in a more talkative mood than usual this visit. He commented that, with better vineyard work, producers should be able to get ripe grapes every year. The most important factor for quality, he said, is the length of the period between floraison and harvest. While quality used to be measured by the degree of alcohol, that is really irrelevant. The essential factors for great wine are balance and harmony, and better wines come when grapes ripen in cool weather. (Several of his comments were echoed by Michel Lafarge, who also noted that in years where there is an earlier flowering, the days at that time of year provide more potential hours of sunlight than do days at the end of the season, making it more likely that the grapes will ripen earlier even than the traditional 100 days after flowering.) He also noted that, notwithstanding the similarities between the 2007 and 2011 growing seasons, the ‘11s have more depth, acidity and structure than the ‘07s.
The Village Chambolle was nice if a bit straightforward, but the Chambolle Fuées was a significant step up in concentration and depth of fruit, and had an almost gamy note; it was pure and transparent, thought the fruit was a bit restrained on the palate. The Nuits Clos de la Maréchale had a lot of big sweet fruit for Maréchale; it was very minerally and perhaps a little severe but not overly so. The Bonnes Mares was dense, pure and powerful on the nose, a bit lighter on the palate, but with elegant fruit. The Chambolle Amoureuses was first-rate, with a profound nose; if the fruit seemed a tad reticent at this moment (as it does for most of the range), nonetheless the structure is there and this is an elegant, serious wine, with a touch of silk–tout en finesse. The Musigny, despite a bit of reduction, had a nose of deep black fruit, minerals, citrus, and lavender, and was pure and elegant on entry, with great line and structure and a multi-dimensional finish that really pops.
The 2010s were particularly impressive. The Chambolle Village was far more intense than the ‘11, showing a lot of black fruit with a core of minerals and spice and a long spicy finish (92). The Nuits Clos de la Maréchale showed plenty of pure black fruit and earth on the nose, with real transparency–the Maréchale vineyard, with all its pluses and minuses, is very much on view here (91). The Musigny had intensely deep black fruit and spice on the nose, with violets and an orange top note; on the palate, there was a lovely core of fruit and it was complex, balanced, pure and with great mineral lift; the strong tannins are still there and it will take time to resolve (94-97).
Ponsot. There were some remarkable wines here, several of which merit inclusion among the very best wines of the vintage. Picking late clearly paid off for Laurent Ponsot in 2011. While some wines (Chambolle Charmes, Griottes-Chambertin, Clos de Bèze and Clos de Vougeot) seemed to have gone off the deep edge–mimicking heavy extraction, although Laurent says he stays away from using any extractive techniques–the best wines here transcend the vintage. Among them are a nicely delineated Morey 1er Cru Cuvée des Alouettes; an excellent Corton Bressandes, well-balanced with suave tannins and a lovely black cherry and mineral finish; and a very fine Chapelle-Chambertin, calm on the palate with sumptuous fruit and great mineral lift and drive–a large-scaled wine that keeps its balance. The real fireworks, as usual, came at the end. The Clos St. Denis Très Vielles Vignes was a supremely elegant wine, with no lack of depth, a delicate balance of fruit and minerality, and best of all, a very, very long silky finish, accompanied by highly refined tannins. Equally good was the Clos de la Roche Vielles Vignes, a wine of power and intensity on the palate, suave tannins, and a long, pure and extremely elegant finish. The two form a wonderful contrast of terroir. Bravo!
DRC. It is satisfying to report that Burgundy’s flagship estate has done it again–producing absolutely brilliant wines that define what the vintage can achieve. The Vosne 1er Cru Cuvée Duvault-Blochet, made mostly from the second pass in the vineyards, 5-10 days after harvest, was lighter-bodied but charming, focused and long, perhaps slightly anonymous as one would expect of a multi-terroir wine, but nonetheless quite pleasant. The Corton was very pure, medium weight, with strong acidity, Corton fruit, plentiful tannin but fairly modulated–an aristocratic wine. Bertrand de Villaine noted that this wine is being aged in 60% one year old barrels, which seems wise, both for wine and vintage. The Echézeaux was punching well above its weight, with a serious, remarkably deep nose of black fruit and spice; it was very stylish, transparent, and coiled, with rich fruit in the mid-palate and a spicy long finish with excellent mineral lift. The Grands Echézeaux, regrettably, seemed a bit too reduced to get a full view, though it is clearly balanced and the tannins ripe. The Romanée-St-Vivant was remarkable–deeply pitched spicy black fruit on the nose, with a creamy note; a totally complete wine on the palate, medium weight but all in place, and a spicy minerally finish, with refined tannins, a creamy/silky texture and great length—truly great RSV. The Richebourg, fine as it was, seemed to take a back seat to the RSV, seemingly a more gentle style of Richebourg, yet a brilliant pure and dense finish suggests that with time, it may give the RSV more of a battle. La Tâche had a beautifully pure nose of black fruit, game, Asian spice and olive; it was medium weight, but very spicy and exotic, broad-shouldered (though perhaps just a touch heavy in the middle?), with a long open minerally finish. The Romanée-Conti was more accessible than it sometimes is at this stage–it showed an immensely deep and pure nose of black fruit, lavender, spice and olives, with tannins that are quite creamy (if that’s possible) and barely in evidence; this is a wine of harmony and grace, delicate and lacy, with a spiciness that runs completely through it. It has everything but is extremely subtle, and the finish was still going 2+ minutes later.
We tasted one 2010, the Echézeaux, and the nose jumped out of the glass; it had spicy fruit, excellent mineral lift, a creamy touch, and was quite transparent, with a deep, spicy, almost tarry finish, very refined tannins, and ultimately a bit more density and concentration than the ’11 (93).
Roumier. Another range of wines that transcend the vintage. In discussing why, despite the similarities in weather, the ‘11s seem generally more interesting and complete than the ‘07s, Christophe cited several factors: the dry winter before ’11, less botrytis in ’11, and more millerandage (briefly, the formation at flowering of small or “shot” berries that produce less, but more concentrated, juice). While the first few wines (Chambolle Village, Morey Clos de la Bussière and Chambolle Les Combottes) seemed a touch on the easy side, if charming and approachable, the Chambolle Les Cras was a considerable step up: austere at first, then sweet red fruit came up, and the wine had excellent balance and was long and complete; while the fruit might seem juicy, there was excellent mineral lift and the balance to carry it. The Ruchottes-Chambertin was a minerally, transparent wine, deep and meaty, with a bit of tannin which was not overbearing, and lovely purity. The Chambolle Amoureuses, though quite reduced, eventually showed incredibly deep red and black fruit flavors, and a soy note; there was a lot of density and tension here, real purity, and a long finish. The Bonnes Mares, though, was in a league of its own (until joined there by the Musigny). On the nose, there was deeply pitched fruit, yet the minerality shone through; on the palate it had great balance and tension, at one moment seeming to be a bit lacy and delicate, and in the next showing its power; on the finish, the stem tannins were prominent, and will give it a long future. The Musigny, which was very reduced at first, seemed by comparison relatively less evolved, yet giving hints of its intensity and complexity; it was pure, with medium tannins and an endlessly long finish which promised great things for the future.
We also tasted a great range of ‘10s here, beginning with the Chambolle Village, which showed a depth and intensity that the ’11 doesn’t possess (91), a rich and powerful Morey Clos de la Bussière that seemed almost overdone (89), a brilliant Chambolle Les Cras, intense, deep and charged with fruit, it had excellent mineral lift and was pure, focused and long (93+); and a dense, balanced and harmonious Ruchottes-Chambertin, with great spine and breed and silk developing on the finish (94). The Chambolle Amoureuses had an almost viscous fruity nose, immense depth and an unusual level of fruit extraction for Roumier, but the acidity kept it from being top-heavy; it was a dense wine yet kept its feet, with an incredibly rich, pure and intense finish, and very refined tannins (95-96). The Bonnes Mares seemed quite mineral-driven, in contrast to the Amoureuses, with tremendous power, purity and intensity, very refined tannins, and at the end, a pure mineral edge wrapped in sweet spicy fruit (97). The Musigny had an aristocratic nose of steel and refined fruit flavors, with a citrus note; on the palate, it is hard to imagine a more balanced wine, delicate even despite the dense sweet fruit, and silky tannins that were immensely refined, on an almost endless finish (97+).
Château de la Tour. Francois Labet has been producing first-rate Clos de Vougeot in recent vintages, particularly his Vielles Vignes. He is committed to 100% whole cluster, and uses about 30% new oak. In addition to his regular cuvée and Vielles Vignes, he will, starting with the 2010, be releasing (in great years only) a third cuvée, Hommage à Jean Morin. Production will be tiny, however. In 2011, I felt that the tannins might be too strong for the delicacy of the regular cuvée, though it certainly had a lovely nose, and obviously Francois does not share my view. The ’11 Clos de Vougeot Vielles Vignes, however, seemed more likely to have the structure and material to carry the tannins, and it had a lovely small berry nose, excellent purity, and the tannins were clearly more refined than those in the regular cuvée. The 2010 Clos de Vougeot Vielles Vignes had a very discreet nose that just hinted at its depths, with a good deal of Asian spice, and excellent tension and structure. This wine had a lot going for it, but seemed to be shutting down. Rated in a range (93-96).
Trapet. Jean-Louis Trapet’s wines have gone from strength to strength in recent years, and his 2011s exploit the potential of the vintage. The Gevrey Village was quite nice, balanced and with a sweet fruit finish. The Gevrey Cuvée Ostrea, also a Village wine, had both more rich fruit and deeper minerality, needing time while the prior wine seemed just about ready to go, but truly an excellent Village wine. Among the 1er Crus, my favorite was the Clos Prieur, with its lovely spicy minerally nose and slight citric note, and a long, pure finish; the Petite Chapelle was also very good, but had more tannin and still seemed coiled. The Chapelle-Chambertin seemed a bit of a heavyweight, ok but not showing much style, at least at the moment. The Latricières, however, was very fine: very pure on both the mid-palate and finish, with good tension and balance; there was a bit of new oak showing but it seemed as though it should integrate well with time. Despite some reduction, the Chambertin eventually opened and showed a nose of deep black fruit, grilled meat, and pure minerality, with excellent volume and balance; this is a powerful and complete wine, and the tannins are subdued and quite refined.
Among the 2010s tasted, the three Grands Crus were all outstanding. The Chapelle-Chambertin had everything on the nose, gorgeous pure fruit, meat, minerals, all in a highly refined package, with moderate, silky tannins and a very long finish. Jean-Louis thought it would need 20 years (94+). The Latricières was a bit reduced but very intense, dense and minerally, with a detailed, aristocratic finish, though the reduction made it hard to give a definitive score (95?). The Chambertin had a “wow” nose, with black fruit, minerals, grilled meat and spice all in evidence but really it was the purity and depth of the nose that came through; on the palate the wine was dense, serious, almost brooding, with a touch of oak but also great depth and balance, and mostly silky tannins and although the oak tannins were not yet fully integrated, I expect they will become so over the 20 years or more this wine will need to fully evolve (96).
Côte de Beaune:
Overall, I see in reviewing my notes that while there were many good wines from the Côte de Beaune that reflected the vintage, there were few if any that transcended it, and I do not think that the overall quality was quite as fine as in the Côte de Nuits.
Chandon de Briailles. This is a serious and perhaps underappreciated domaine. That said, the wines in 2011 struck me as good, without necessarily being exciting. The Savigny Fournaux was very nice, open and approachable, and a cuvée of the Savigny Lavières that was bottled without sulfur as an experiment was delicate and lovely, with the pure minerality more in evidence than in the sulfured cuvée, and a long finish. The Pernand Ile des Vergelesses was mineral-driven, with some fruit in evidence, but in the leaner style this wine not infrequently shows. I quite liked the Corton Clos du Roi, with excellent transparency, also in a somewhat leaner style but it was well-knit and elegant and had a lovely pure finish.
The 2010s showed quite well, including the Savigny Lavières, a pleasing wine with a nice fruit finish (90) and the Pernand Ile des Vergelesses, which had transparent pure sweet cherry fruit, spice and its usual cool minerality; a vibrant wine (92). The 2010 Corton Bressandes was quite reduced, and though it seemed to have excellent weight and elegance, it was resisting full evaluation on this day.
Clos des Epeneaux. The Pommard 1er Cru (a young vines cuvée, a portion of which will be used in the blend for the Clos des Epeneaux) had nice bright red fruit and seemed approachable early. The Clos des Epeneaux blend had a pure deep nose of red and black fruit, minerals and earth; on the mid-palate this came across as an elegant Epeneaux with light fruit and very fine mineral lift; but the wine did display some strong, if relatively refined (in the context of Pommard) tannins. The 2010 had great purity on the nose and palate, and was intense, with a lot of complexity to the minerality, and earth and gingerbread notes, very intense and precise, with suave tannins on the long finish (95+).
Marquis d’Angerville. While older d’Angerville wines can be among the most gorgeous expressions of Volnay, Guillaume d’Angerville has brought these wines to an even higher level of refinement in recent years. As did others, Guillaume also compared the ‘11s to the ‘07s, in terms of having similar growing seasons, but he finds more tension in the ‘11s than the ‘07s. His ‘11s are very good, without quite reaching the heights of recent vintages here. I did like the Volnay Les Angles, with a lot of cherry fruit, a delicate wine but not lacking in substance; the Frémiets, with a pure and penetrating nose of black cherries and spice, good minerality, some strong tannins, and a very long and pure finish; and the Taillepieds, a more powerful and tannic wine, with a saline note and allspice at the end and strong tannins. However, the Caillerets, notwithstanding its lovely integrated stoniness, epitomized for me the slight hesitancy I felt about these wines. This is a cuvée I generally love here, but this year it seemed a touch light, with soft sweet fruit on the palate, a strong saline note at the end, and a better nose than palate impression. The best wines of the range were clearly the Champans, with a pure nose of fruit wrapped in minerals, definitely holding a lot in reserve, some earthy tannins and a pure long finish; and the Clos des Ducs, with an austere nose, the most mineral lift of any of these wines, power and integrated tannins.
We also tasted a 2010 Volnay Frémiets, a completely integrated and pure wine, with ripe fruit and excellent acidic lift, refined tannins and generally a higher level of ripeness and more power than in 2011 (92); and a 2010 Volnay Caillerets, restrained and slightly unforthcoming but with excellent density and black cherry, stony, saline and citric notes as well as allspice; the tannins are already becoming silky and though this seemed to be shutting down, it should be excellent with time (92+).
De Montille. Etienne de Montille was understandably excited to tell us of the changes at this Domaine, stemming from the purchase of the Château de Puligny-Montrachet, which it had been running for a number of years. Certain of the wines from Château de Puligny will now come under the Domaine label, including Chevalier and Perrières, and the Domaine will focus on Premiers and Grands Crus, while the Maison Deux Montille and remaining Château de Puligny wines will be consolidated and the focus there will be on less exalted appellations. Overall, I thought Etienne did a very good job with his reds in 2011. Of the trio of Volnay 1er Crus we tasted, I liked the Champans and Mitans but thought the Taillepieds the best, with its perfumed nose and a silky sweetness on the palate; overall this was a wine of great charm and balance even if the tannins still seemed a bit severe (it is 100% whole cluster). The Pommard Rugiens was quite nice, with integrated sweet fruit, medium body, and silkiness developing–this seemed very approachable for a Pommard, and the tannins were in check. Etienne called it a good expression of what 2011 can be. I also quite liked the Clos de Vougeot, with bright red fruit on the nose, a touch of game, and a perfumed note; this had very nice medium weight, and silk on the finish–again, a very nice wine though not profound. The two Vosne Malconsorts were showing particularly well, the regular cuvée transparent and elegant, while the Cuvée Christianne was once again brilliant, with a much more restrained, floral nose than the regular cuvée; on the palate, it was delicate and elegant, if slightly on the lighter side, and was very spicy, with notes of game; the tannins were polished and the finish long and complete.
Michel Gaunoux. As noted in previous reports, this Domaine does not provide tastings of wines in barrel. However, they do now show the finished wine from the prior vintage, and we were pleased to be able to taste a range of ‘10s here. The Pommard Grands Epenots was earthy but with great mineral lift, balanced, medium-weight, with a nutty element to it, and also a medium finish but very pure, with a touch of Pommard earth (91-92). The Pommard Rugiens was more earthy and with a deeper pitched spicy note than the Epenots, and on the palate it was more substantial as well, quite tightly wound and will need more time; the tannins were well in evidence but ripe and more polished than is usual for Pommard; and with a minerality that frames the wine (94+). The Corton Renardes seemed a bit light at first but then opened up, with a fair amount of tannin, good density, power and mineral lift; it was hardly the most elegant of Grands Crus but it was intense (93). For those not familiar with this Domaine, they have substantial stocks of older wine, and we tasted an excellent 1993 Pommard Rugiens, still 10 years away from peak (93), a very old-fashioned, rich and gamy ’83 Corton Renardes, not suffering from any of the typical ’83 problems of hail and rot (92), and a fascinating ’57 Corton Renardes, the first of three ‘57s I tasted on this trip–a vintage that has not been highly regarded, due in part to a hard edge on these wines that has never fully gone away, but this was ripe, large-framed, heavy and full, not what one would call stylish but intriguing nonetheless (92+).
Lafarge. While Michel Lafarge has turned most responsibilities over to his son Frédéric and daughter-in-law Chantal, he remains active and it is always a pleasure to listen to this remarkable man, whose experience encompasses something on the order of 60 vintages. He is a great believer in non-intervention, letting the vintage and the terroir speak. He thinks the ‘11s are more classic than the ‘10s, more approachable now while the ‘10s will take time to open. I found the wines this year to be a bit on the easy side, very nice certainly, but Lafarge is capable of so much in great vintages that one can feel slightly let down when the wines are merely very good. That said, there is a lot to like here, including his soft, fruity and charming Bourgogne (usually one of the best in Burgundy), a lighter style but enjoyable Beaune Aigrots, a denser and more serious Beaune Grèves, with a bit of a hard tannic edge, a well balanced Volnay Mitans with good depth, a charming, pure soft and easy Caillerets, without the tension of a great year but approachable early, and a complex, balanced Clos des Chênes, also approachable despite some harder tannins than the Caillerets.
Nicolas Rossignol. Thanks to a tip from Allen Meadows, we visited Nicolas Rossignol this year, and were quite pleased with the visit. Nicolas is a young winemaker who, as he himself admits, has changed and refined his style over the past years, moving away from a style that at one time was perhaps too heavy and over-extracted. He sees ’11 as a cross between ’10 and ’08 and says he prefers the vintage to both ’10 and ’09 (something we did not hear from any other red wine producer). His Bourgogne Héritière, from 90 year old vines, was remarkable for the appellation, a rich wine with sweet, spicy fruit and good minerality. There was a beautiful range of Volnays here, beginning with a dense if slightly heavy Volnay Village and including the Caillerets, which showed excellent balance and transparency despite some reduction; an equally fine Frémiets, with excellent drive and a gorgeous finish of black cherry, minerals, gingerbread and citrus; and my favorite, the Taillepieds, from 80 year old vines, which showed blackberries and brambles on the nose and was spicy, elegant and transparent. I found the Pommards, of which we only saw three, less interesting. Unlike some producers who seem to use the same formula regardless of the vintage, Nicolas modulates his use of whole cluster, from 0 to 100%, and his oak treatment, depending on his view of the wine and particularly the soil from which it comes.
We also tasted two ‘10s, a Beaune Clos du Roi, made with 60% whole cluster, which was quite pure, open and accessible, with round tannins–a lighter style, but lovely, wine (91), and a Volnay Chevrets (there are only 3 producers of Chevrets: Henri Boillot, Bouchard Père & Fils, and Rossignol), made from 100% whole cluster, with deep black fruit and spice, an elegant wine with some dry tannin on the finish (91+).
Comte Senard. Philippe Senard is one of the nicest people in Burgundy, and his daughter Lorraine, who has taken over the winemaking, is working hard. The wines are certainly good, but I do tend to leave here wishing I liked them as much as I do the family. Among the ‘11s, the Corton Clos du Roi showed best, with a lot of spicy red fruit and prominent tannins but nonetheless excellent balance and a subtle finish—a wine that has a lot of promise. Among the ‘10s there are some very nice wines, including the Corton-Bressandes, with deeply pitched black fruit, excellent minerality, and a spicy long finish (91+); the Corton Clos des Meix, with a fairly firm nose showing complex dried fruits, much more accessible on the palate than the Bressandes, with a good fruit/mineral balance and a medium finish (92); Corton Paulandes, more delicate and with a nice subtle minerality (92); and Corton Clos du Roi, with a restrained and refined nose, subtle dried fruits, a lot of minerality, and good tension, taking its time to open up (93).
The line between domaines and negociants in Burgundy gets blurrier every year. In part this is because many top domaines are seeking to expand their range, realizing that they have unused capacity and the ability to capitalize on the difference in price between an anonymous grower’s grapes and the wines of a highly reputed domaine. At the same time, negociant firms, realizing that their best sources are inexorably turning to more remunerative domaine bottling, have sought to expand the range of their owned, domaine properties. Most of what we see at houses such as Drouhin, Bouchard or Faiveley are wines owned by the domaine—not to say they don’t still make a lot of money on purchased grapes or wines, but more and more these tend to be the lower-end wines where a negociant’s brand still carries considerably more weight than almost any grower could.
Olivier Bernstein. Both Bernstein and winemaker Richard Seguin are passionate about making quality wines, but unfortunately their idea of Burgundy and mine are completely at odds. These wines are deep-colored, heavily extracted, subject to a 100% new oak regime with a heavy hand on the toast, and about 50% whole cluster. The latter is not necessarily a bad thing, but in combination with everything else, and especially when superimposed on a vintage like 2011, the results are heavy and overdone, with all sense of underlying terroir being totally obliterated. Fans of this style (paging Robert Parker…) may love these wines, but I do not. The Clos de Vougeot got my vote as worst wine of the trip, with a nose of tar, plums and tropical fruit; tasted blind, I would have guessed bad Syrah. What this has to do with Burgundy, I don’t know.
Bouchard Père & Fils. The winemaking here has since 2009 moved in the direction of less reliance on new oak generally and lightened up on the toast, which is all to the good. The Domaine wines in general did well in 2011, within the context of the vintage. Among the Beaunes, I especially favored the Beaune Grèves Vigne de L’Enfant Jésus, which had a nose of huge sweet fruit, earth, minerals and a touch of wheatmeal biscuit; on the palate there was a touch of dried fruits and herbs but it was balanced, had a nice medium weight and a transparent finish with finely delineated tannins–lighter style but very nice. Another signature wine of the Domaine, the Volnay Caillerets Ancienne Cuvée Carnot was also quite fine, with a charming red fruit and mineral nose, purity on the palate, power and stoniness, perhaps a hard edge to the tannins but they should moderate in time. The Domaine’s Pommard Rugiens was also nice, if a little on the light side (as one taster noted, there seems to be an effort, common among many producers, to make their Pommards in a more accessible style). The Domaine’s Corton was quite ripe and primary, a bit fat for my taste but the fruit is quite rich and this should be ready early and a real crowd-pleaser. Bouchard also has some new Chambolle 1er Crus in the lineup, Noirots and Charmes; of the two, I preferred the latter, which was slightly light but approachable and should mature early. The Gevrey Cazetiers, also a Domaine wine, was very nice, approachable, with meaty and red cherry notes that carried through the finish. The Echézeaux, a Domaine wine from the En Orveaux climat, had a high-toned minerally nose, a sense of spiciness and black cherries; overall it was a deeper and more serious wine than those that preceded it, and one that needs time. The Domaine’s Bonnes Mares was also good, reflective of the vintage with its sweet ripe cherry flavors, good acidity, and light tannic presence, though also showing the new oak influence (70% for this wine).
Drouhin. The Drouhin reds continue to sit on a high plateau, as these (mostly Domaine) wines will stand comparison to–and often outclass–the wines of many of the better domaines at which we taste. The Beaune Grèves was showing some reduction but the underlying quality seemed to be there; the Nuits Les Procès was delicious and ready; while the Chambolle Village showed great charm. The Chambolle 1er Cru, always an excellent value, did not disappoint, a soft and charming wine but it also has some spine, and a long finish with rich fruit. The Vosne Petits Monts was on a different level, with real lift and presence, and great acidity; while it has medium weight, it has a great transparent finish. The Griotte-Chambertin frequently seems reduced and out of sorts at this time of year, and this year was no exception. Nonetheless, its track record as it approaches maturity has been consistently excellent, and one can see the structure here that bodes well for the future. The Grands Echézeaux had spicy, cassis and citrus notes on the palate, and seemed quite intense for a Drouhin wine, with a lot of tannins at the end but coated in silk; this too will be very good. The Clos de Vougeot showed more restraint and structure than the Grands Echézeaux, and was one of the better Clos de Vougeots tasted this trip. (As an aside, Veronique Drouhin noted that while Drouhin owns two parcels in the Clos, one near the bottom, that bottom parcel is usually vinified separately and sold off.) The Chambolle Amoureuses had a deep, complex nose that draws you in; while it initially seemed more open-knit on the palate, eventually you sensed the depth; though it had a lot of tannin for Amoureuses, the tannins were quite refined–a very serious wine. The Bonnes Mares was very reduced but underneath there was a powerful, transparent and tannic wine with a long, transparent finish. The Musigny was in an elegant if somewhat lighter style than usual and with soft tannins; it seemed quite reticent now but as it opened, showed more and more of its elegant side. This year, though, it was not the best in show; rather, that honor went to the Clos de Bèze, with a deep nose of grilled meat, wet stones, and black cherry; it had lots of primary fruit, and was soft and welcoming, but the tannins, if silky, were still present; on the finish, it was spicy, transparent, silky and very long. This would be a great wine in any vintage.
Faiveley. The renaissance at Faiveley continues, under the able supervision of Erwan Faiveley and the knowledgeable guidance of Bernard Hervet. Dating from 2005, soon this leap in quality will be too commonplace to mention. Again, though, the Domaine wines tend to be the stars, and the expansion of the Domaine through purchases continues apace.
Faced with a long list of wines at the end of an even longer day, we accepted our hosts’ invitation to pare the list slightly, but Bernard Hervet drew the line when we proposed skipping the Pommard Rugiens—“that would be a mistake,” he opined, and he was correct. It was a very spicy, minerally Rugiens, with good fruit and moderate tannins, a Rugiens with substance but one that will not take 40 years to come around. There was, as befits this Nuits-based estate, the usual excellent range of Nuits 1er Crus, and I particularly liked the Chaignots–with its sweet red fruit, spice, a touch of chestnut and a pure finish, this will make for early drinking; the Porrets St. Georges had an excellent nose, a spiciness that carried through the wine, and good mineral lift, though a fair amount of earthy tannins; and the Les St. Georges, the star of all the 1er Crus here in 2010, was also excellent this year, with greater focus than the other 1er Crus, a touch of young oak but also chocolate, spice and sweet red fruit. This year, Faiveley has begun a contractual arrangement for three Chambolle 1er Crus—Aux Beaux Bruns, Charmes and Amoureuses; with their Combe d’Orveaux 1er Cru and Fuées, it makes for a very full lineup of Chambolle 1er Crus. Of these, I preferred the Fuées, with its restrained nose of Chambolle fruit, its focus and transparency—a wine that will give pleasure early—and the Amoureuses (100% whole cluster used here), with its soft red fruit, spine of minerality, and its great charm, precision, balance and complexity; it had some tannin though not a great deal. Among the Grands Crus, I found the Echézeaux (from En Orveaux) well made but a bit anonymous; better were the Clos de Vougeot, with volume, clarity and power; the Latricières, with a beautiful stony nose, balanced and focused, and with a long pure minerally finish; Mazis, more penetrating than the Latricières, very meaty and driven, with relatively resolved tannins; a dense, heavyweight Clos de Bèze, intense, structured, with refined tannins, and the Musigny, as always reduced and a little disjointed at this juncture, but underneath one sees the purity and refinement developing. Best, in my view, were the Corton Clos des Cortons Faiveley, a first-rate Corton that has sweet, voluptuous fruit yet keeps its balance and some medium-light tannins, and the Clos de Bèze-Ouvrees Rodin, the special cuvée of Bèze from a particularly favored site within the vineyard, with a cool fruit nose that sucks you into its depths, a big tannic structure, bold, with plenty of minerality and a pure, driving finish that expands for several minutes.
Jadot. Jacques Lardiere, the noted winemaker for Jadot who is one of Burgundy’s most engaging characters (even many Burgundians don’t always understand what he’s saying, but it is never dull), is retiring this year after 42 years at Jadot. He presided over this, our last tasting with him, and was voluble as always. He noted that no stems were used in the reds in 2011. He also said that yields are the key to quality in Burgundy, that the floodgates were opened in the ‘70s and ‘80s to yields of 40+ hl/ha, but that yields in the 20s (hl/ha) were necessary for real quality. He said that his successor, Frédéric Barnier, would bring down the yields on the Beaune 1er Crus and that we would all see much more exciting wines coming from Beaune. Having had a remarkable bottle of ’24 Beaune Clos des Mouches Rouge from Drouhin a few days before, his comments resonated with me, and I hope Barnier will have the opportunity to follow through. As for the reds themselves, they were a mixed bunch, heterogeneous like the vintage, some charming and accessible, while others had severe tannins that seemed likely to overwhelm the delicate fruit. Among the 1er Cru wines I liked were a fruit-forward and lovely Pommard Rugiens, a Nuits Boudots that was an excellent expression of its terroir; a sweet and approachable Chambolle Baudes that will be a crowd pleaser; and as usual an excellent Gevrey Clos St. Jacques, an elegant, balanced wine with a nice spicy quality and a touch of polished tannins. Among the Grands Crus, those that stood out were the Clos St. Denis, with lovely bright fruit, charm and elegance; an easygoing Mazis that nonetheless had a lot to it; a very nice Chambertin, without the depth and tension of the best years but nevertheless full of fruit, grilled meat and minerality; and a Clos de Bèze that was less rich but more minerally than the Chambertin, spicy, with notes of violets on the nose, long and with refined tannins. Best of all was the Musigny, a wine of great equilibrium with citric lift, medium tannins, minerally notes and deeply pitched red fruit that rides through the wine into the finish.
There were many successful whites in 2011, and it will most likely prove to be a useful vintage, given that the quality is very good and the wines will be accessible almost from the beginning–an advantage in this age of premox. (Also, because of the greatly reduced quantities in 2012, it will be a necessary vintage.) Overall, the white wine-oriented Domaines we visited this year did well in 2011. The picture at the negociants, probably more reflective of overall reality, was more mixed, and one thing we noticed was that those Domaines that produce some whites, but are predominantly red-wine oriented, generally did not have as much success with their whites in 2011.
Bonneau du Martray. Here we tasted the 2010 (indeed a range of older vintages) before the 2011 Corton Charlemagne. The ’10, while softer and more elegant than the three preceding vintages, had strong mineral underpinnings, a silky, almost lacy texture, and fantastic balance; a slight hardness at the end suggested that this will develop further and keep well, as long as premox doesn’t get to it (95). The 2011 Corton Charlemagne was showing pears and spice, some yeastiness on the nose, and a bit of fat in the mid-palate compared to the ‘10, along with the customary minerality. To me, this wine seemed as though it would be ready earlier than most CC’s from this Domaine, but Jean-Charles said it was not tasting very different from the 2010 at the same stage, though he noted the extra density in the 2010 and commented that the ’11 is a bit fluid right now but will grow in volume.
Francois Carillon. This was our first visit to this Domaine. (Beginning with the 2010 vintage, the Louis Carillon domaine was split between sons Francois and Jacques.) The wines here were extremely impressive, indeed some of the best whites we tasted this trip. Things started well, with a very nice Bourgogne Blanc, but really took off when we reached the Puligny Premiers Crus: a pure and fresh Champs Canet with lots of white flowers and subtle lime; a powerful and transparent Referts, with more body than the prior wine and a very long finish; a Combettes that, despite some reduction, showed great potential, with an incredible finish showing power, lift, richness and elegance; and finally, a Perrières (from old vines) that was deeply minerally, more stony than the Combettes but with excellent fruit and spice and great length. This is definitely a domaine to follow.
Château de Puligny-Montrachet. As noted above, this estate has been purchased by de Montille and there will be some restructuring of the portfolio going forward; among other things, small holdings in Bâtard and Montrachet have been sold to Francois Pinault (owner of Domaine d’Eugenie and something called Château Latour in some other part of France), though it seems likely given the tiny quantities that these wines will not be commercialized but rather kept, Prince de Conti style, for the pleasure of the owner and his guests. While the Village wines did not impress, I found some things to like among the Premiers and Grands Crus, including a Meursault Perrières with a lovely glacial quality to it, and white flowers; an elegant, perfumed Puligny Folatières; and a Chevalier with a dense, minerally nose hinting at great depth and a very fine finish, if not quite as fine (right now) in the mid-palate. Among the Domaine de Montille whites, I quite liked the Beaune Aigrots, which with sweet peachy fruit and a very stony quality seemed almost reminiscent of a Saar Riesling, though without the petrol, and especially the Puligny Caillerets, which was floral, stony and dense; though it had a lot of material it was quite coiled right now.
Latour-Giraud. Here we also tasted the 2010s first, and they were superb. The Meursault Charmes was quite stony for Charmes, with excellent lift (91); the Genevrières, more spread out initially than the Charmes, was massive in back and clearly needs time, but all is in balance here (91); the Perrières had a very harmonious nose of white flowers and subtle minerality, and a creamy texture, with serious volume and density (93-94); and the Genevrières Cuvée des Pierre was a wine of extraordinary finesse, minerals wrapped in flowers, calm but with great lift (95-96). Following the ‘10s, the ‘11s were gassy and in a difficult phase, so that it is premature to judge their ultimate quality, but based on the ‘10s I would expect good things from these wines, especially at the top levels.
Leflaive. I was a bit surprised here, and not positively. While the wines at the top (Pucelles and the Grands Crus) showed quite well, the other wines did not seem up to the historic standards of the Domaine. To be clear, it is not that they were in any way bad wines, rather that, while Leflaives have in the past (along with Ramonet in the pre-premox era) been the standard by which white Burgundy was judged, these wines simply left one wishing for more. Neither the Bourgogne Blanc nor the Puligny Village seemed entirely balanced, while the Puligny Clavoillon had some nice elements but seemed too soft overall, if relatively elegant for Clavoillon. The Puligny Folatières was, not atypically, more deeply spicy and minerally than the Clavoillon; today its core seemed a bit severe but with flesh developing around it; and the Combettes had more energy than the Folatières but less flesh, though it did have a relatively elegant finish. The Pucelles was a major step up, with a bright nose of flowers, cream, citrus and minerals, excellent balance and harmony on the palate, and a very precise, chiseled finish. The Bienvenues-Bâtard was quite rich for BBM, but kept its balance and had an elegant finish; good as it was, it was outshone by the Bâtard, with white flowers, cream and honey covering a minerally core; this has power, intensity and tension and a very long finish. The Chevalier was quite harmonious, with a lot of tension for Chevalier, a saline quality and good spice; it seemed to be just beginning to come out of its shell and resolved itself into a long, very spicy and complete finish. The one ’10 we saw, the Puligny Combettes, was far above the ’11 version, with deep minerality, very fine palate expression, and a rich and almost endless finish; excellent as it was, it clearly needs time (93).
Bernard Moreau. An excellent range of ‘11s at this Domaine. Alexandre Moreau said he found these wines a bit rounder and more approachable than the ‘10s, and with more acidity than the ‘09s. We tasted a fine St. Aubin 1er Cru En Remilly which had just been bottled, and a string of successes among the Chassagne 1er Crus: a very good Chenevottes, which despite a touch of reduction had good texture to it; a more powerful and more open Champs Gains (Alexandre Moreau described this terroir as having less minerality and broader shoulders); a Morgeots which was much more in pear fruit and spice; and finally the Grands Ruchottes, a brilliant wine, stony and penetrating, almost Chablis-like in its austerity, but not lacking fruit and with a floral quality. The Bâtard was a further step up (though there is only one barrel of this), with great balance and tension, and a floral/minerally essence that runs from the nose through to the long finish. After the Bâtard, the Chevalier seemed tighter and less forthcoming, though with real elegance–clearly it needs to develop further.
We also tasted two ‘10s, an excellent Chassagne Village (89-90) and a slightly austere Morgeots which however had excellent density and was clearly still evolving (90+).
Paul Pillot. This is very much a domaine to watch, as young winemaker Thierry Pillot seems quite determined to produce consistent quality from the domaine’s ample range of Chassagne vineyards. The Chassagne Les Mazures (a Village lieu-dit) had a pure floral and minerally quality and even slightly outshone the very good Champs Gains and Clos St. Jean. However, the trio of Grand Montagne, Grand Ruchottes and Caillerets were all at another level: the Grand Montagne (from limestone soil) had great transparency and a very long finish; the Grand Ruchottes had more power and volume yet was still transparent and with a creamy texture; and the Caillerets, more lacy and minerally than the Grand Ruchottes, was very balanced and long. As usual, though, the best premier cru was the La Romanée, with a calm nose of honey, spiced pears and minerals, very complete on the palate, and with excellent tension. While Thierry in general prefers his ‘10s to his ‘11s, he felt that the ’11 La Romanée was of such quality that it outshone its older sibling. Sadly, we were late for our next appointment and did not have the opportunity to find out for ourselves!
Guy Roulot. Jean-Marc said they began harvesting on August 24, which is the earliest date that I heard, though I know that Jean-Marc likes to preserve the acidity in his wines and not let them get over-ripe; for example in ’09 he was able by picking early to avoid the top-heaviness that characterizes many whites of this vintage and produced some of the most attractive wines of that year. He generally prefers his ‘11s to his ‘10s, as he feels they are more homogeneous, noting that there were some problems with the malolactic fermentations in ’10. His Bourgogne, nearly always a good value, did not disappoint, but the real surprise was the Auxey-Duresses, which too often lacks adequate ripe fruit to balance the natural steeliness of the wine; here, it was quite pure, with a peaches and cream quality not often seen in this appellation. The range of Meursault lieux-dits was, as one might expect, particularly fine, including an excellent Meix Chavaux, a more mineral-driven Luchets, with a touch of orange blossom; a pure and balanced Tillets (though there was a hint of tartness on the finish), and a very complete Tessons whose nose enfolds one in its depths. The Meursault Clos des Bouchères (a 1er cru that is new this year, as he exchanged his parcel of Bouchères with Dominque Lafon for this parcel as part of the complex farming arrangements for the former Rene Manuel property now owned by a consortium of New Yorkers) had amazing balance and grace, a lot of minerality and excellent density, though it seems to need additional time. The Meursault Charmes was perfectly nice, but the Perrières was a triumph, with a softness and floral quality that is balanced by the minerality, and with red fruit and citrus as well, and an open very long finish.
We also tasted a range of ‘10s, including the Bourgogne Blanc (which had a slight mushroomy hint) (87); Auxey Duresses (88); a still evolving Tillets (90+) (and also the ’09 Tillets, an elegant, precise wine (92)); and finally the Perrières. Jean-Marc noted that the malo had not finished until January 2012 and that there was a slight touch of botrytis in this wine; nonetheless it was minerally, spicy and rich, with a good floral component; however, a bit of acidity seemed to be sticking out at the end (92?). Also, though outside the normal bounds of these notes, I have to mention a wine, tasted blind, that was rich, full-bodied, harmonious and lively–and which, remarkably, turned out to be the 2002 Bourgogne Blanc (92)!
Bouchard Père & Fils. Overall, I found the whites here very nice, though mostly not compelling, and most will be best drunk young. Among those that stood out for me were the Meursault Charmes, which was spicy, floral, fat and ready to go; the Genevrières, which despite having some fat also, had a good deal more tension than the Charmes, a very long finish, and could use some time; the Chevalier Montrachet, soft and approachable but certainly elegant; an even better Chevalier La Cabotte, more mineral-driven and with better tension, but with a subdued elegant floral quality and a touch of Meyer lemon–it will nonetheless develop on the early side; and a very fine Montrachet, elegant rather than powerful, with a subtle mineral/floral combination on the nose and hints of lemon and spice–a complex wine with an almost endless finish, and again a wine that will be ready relatively early.
Among the Fèvre Chablis, the Grands Crus were all very good, though not outstanding, including an elegant, lighter style Les Preuses and a Les Clos with a great deal of material that needs time to come together, but for me the best was the Valmur, in a lighter style but tightly coiled, with all its components in harmony, and a long very expressive minerally finish.
Drouhin. Veronique Drouhin rightly noted that the ’11 whites are not for long aging. I found the Chablis Vaudesir and Les Clos both pleasant but pretty much ready to go. The Chassagne Village was accessible and soft but a quite nice expression of Chassagne, while the Chassagne Morgeot Marquis de Laguiche was quite pretty, with an excellent nose, but without much acidity to keep it. The Beaune Clos des Mouches had more volume and lift, with great charm and balance, and a bit more acidity but essentially it too will be ready early. The Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche had volume and presence, notes of white peaches, spice, honey and oyster shell–a medium-weight, elegant wine that has a moderate level of acidity and also will be ready early, but is quite delicious.
Faiveley. Bernard Hervet pronounced himself a big fan of ’11 white–he compared them to the wines of the ‘70s and 80s, with relatively lower levels of alcohol, but well balanced. Nonetheless, I found the ‘11s here inconsistent, and I think they are not yet up to the general standard of the reds, which these days is very high indeed. Among the Chablis, there was a quite nice Clos, big, vibrant, broad-framed and flinty; better still was the Meursault Charmes, with excellent butterfat balanced by a lovely stony quality, a nice Puligny Garenne and a better Folatières, with deeper-pitched minerality, intense and serious but with lots of sweet fruit as well. The Bâtard had lovely sweet fruit, spice and minerality, all in balance and with a persistent finish, and the Corton-Charlemagne was rich, broad and approachable, with plenty of fruit, minerals and spice, which made it quite an appealing wine.
Jadot. Jacques Lardiere and Frédéric Barnier did a terrific job with the ’11 whites, getting more serious and deeper wines than some of their competitors, and on the whole, the range of whites outshone the reds. A very nice if slightly hard Meursault Genevrières was followed by a truly excellent Meursault Perrières, very pure with sweet fruit, flowers, and hazelnuts but also plenty of minerality. The Chassagne Morgeot Clos de la Chapelle Duc de Magenta had a good balance of creamed fruit, lime, spice and minerals, and lots of dry extract. The Puligny Folatières (Heritiers Louis Jadot) was even better, very powerful with a penetrating minerality and a long stony finish. The Bâtard and the Bienvenues-Bâtard both showed extremely well, with the former being transparent, powerful, with sweet fruit, beeswax and minerals, and a long finish with lots in reserve, and the Bienvenues having a stunning nose, excellent fruit, but not the structure of the Bâtard-—an interesting terroir contrast. The Chevalier Demoiselles had cooler fruit and was quite reserved, with penetrating minerality and a super-long finish; it clearly needs time but has great potential. The Montrachet was elegant and even somewhat delicate on the palate, but the finish revealed a lot of dry extract, suggesting that this wine needs time to evolve but should be excellent. We finished with the Corton-Charlemagne; as Jacques explained (with his usual panoply of hand gestures and facial expressions), they still can never quite figure out where to put this in the order of tasting–too big to precede the Bienvenues or Bâtard, but otherwise it interrupts the flow of the other Grands Crus, so last it is). This year, perhaps the placement did not help it; coming after the Demoiselles and Montrachet, it seemed to be in a lighter but more accessible style, especially for Corton-Charlemagne.
Other Whites (from predominantly red-wine domaines): With rare exception, the predominantly red-wine domaines did not produce impressive 2011 whites, though many are certainly pleasant. From Chandon de Briailles, a pleasant and approachable Pernand Ile des Vergelesses and a more high-toned Corton Blanc, with notes of melon and pineapple and a minerally finish; from Bruno Clair, easy-going whites, including the Corton-Charlemagne; weak whites this year from Lafarge, who usually does better; a decent if soft and approachable Corton-Charlemagne from Méo; a Nuits Clos de la Maréchale Blanc from Mugnier that had tropical fruits, minerals and spice but lacked the volume and intensity of the better Côte de Beaune whites (the ’10 had more density, minerality and depth (90)); and from Senard, a Corton Blanc that seemed to have a bubblegum note, not at all in a league with the ’10 Corton Blanc, which had spice, deep-pitched minerality and length (91).
However, there was good success at Domaine des Lambrays, with a very pretty Puligny Folatières that was soft and ready to go, and a somewhat tauter Puligny Clos du Caillerets, with lovely minerality and spice. Thierry Brouin likes this better than his ’10, but I am not sure I agree; the ’10 Clos du Caillerets, though more restrained than ’11, had deep minerality, citrus, pears and spice, and a touch of sweetness; it will mature on the early side (93). Thierry also noted that there was so little white produced in ’12 (80% of the crop was lost) that he may have to blend the Folatières and the Clos du Caillerets. (He also gave us his ’11 Rosé du Clos, made for the Japanese market, which was pretty awful: sweet and dry at the same time. Fortunately it will not be available in the US market.) The whites were also excellent at Ponsot, beginning with a harmonious, pleasant St. Romain Cuvée de la Mésange (new this year), and including a balanced, spicy, minerally and appley Morey Clos des Monts Luisants Blanc (from 100 year old vines) and a Corton-Charlemagne with a lot of sweet fruit–a crowd-pleaser but also serious at the same time. Best of all was the Montrachet, with a huge perfumed nose and spice, beeswax and honey, white flowers and good mineral lift; massive and intense, it nonetheless manages to keep its balance and will be excellent—a good wine with which to end these notes.
© 2012 Douglas E. Barzelay
With the arrest of Rudy Kurniawan (on March 8, 2012), an extraordinary chapter in the history of wine fraud has begun to close. Two recent articles, Mike Steinberger’s A Vintage Crime in Vanity Fair, and Ben Wallace’s Château Sucker in New York, have ably chronicled the facts as we now know them, though I strongly suspect that further revelations may emerge.
Of course fraudulent wine is neither a contemporary phenomenon nor one that will disappear with Rudy’s arrest. But what has happened in the decade in which Rudy Kurniawan flourished and then fell represents a loss of innocence, especially for Burgundy lovers, as what was once an insular province of connoisseurs, sharing dusty bottles while speaking a language few outsiders understood, became part of the larger marketplace for luxury goods, now eagerly sought as a badge of success by a rising class of wealthy consumers around the globe. Well within the term of memory, great wines, especially older Burgundies, were relatively affordable, and still treated with the deference due subtle and ineffable pleasures, rather than brandished as expensive trophies in contests of conspicuous consumption. Those of us who experienced it can mourn the passing of that era but we cannot bring it back.
Because my perspective is that of someone passionate about old Burgundy, and because I ultimately came to play a small role in Rudy’s downfall, I thought that it might be useful to tell the story of Rudy Kurniawan’s rise and fall as I saw it. I do not pretend to bring the kind of reportorial skills or narrative scope to this story that either Steinberger or Wallace did. What I hope to be able to do is to set down, as faithfully as I can recall, my observations and impressions during the time when Rudy was a major figure in the world of rare wine, well before the denouement of this extraordinary tale was known.
There are more than a few parallels between Rudy’s career and that of Hardy Rodenstock a generation earlier. Rodenstock’s fraudulent career, though, however splashy the “Jefferson” bottles of supposed 18th Century Bordeaux made it, was more limited in scope than Rudy’s became. Interest in wine among a new and wealthy audience, where labels were far more important than the liquid inside, had certainly been growing for many years. But Rudy’s arrival seemed to coincide with a new bacchanalian era, in which investment bankers and real estate moguls dueled not with pistols but with magnums of ’47 Château Lafleur and jeroboams of ’62 La Tâche. And Rudy was able to take advantage of a certain credulousness that went with this growing hunger for the old and rare–the fervent desire of these collectors to believe that their wealth and aggressiveness had given them unique access to trophies others could not have, compounded with a lack of knowledge both of how improbable it was that these rarities still existed in such large quantities, and of what these great wines were supposed to taste like. And where Rodenstock had largely confined himself to top Bordeaux, Rudy’s fraud, beginning there, soon began creeping into hitherto relatively untouched corners of the wine world, particularly Burgundy.
Even now, there is still little understanding of how this baby-faced young man rose, seemingly from nowhere, to the point where he could fool many of the world’s wealthiest collectors. Those who became a part of his world were, for the most part, badly burned and are understandably not eager to talk, while a fair amount of the internet commentary, indulging itself in an orgy of schadenfreude, has assumed every bottle he served or sold must have been fake and that everyone who ever drank wines with, or bought wines from, Rudy had to have been either a dupe or an enabler. As so often happens with tales that capture the broader imagination, events and characters get reduced to black and white, and all nuance is lost. The story of how he was able to fool so many bright, successful people for so long is however more complex—and ultimately more interesting.
I first became aware of Rudy by reputation; as best I can recall, this was probably sometime in early or mid 2004. His reputation as it came to me was that of a rich, young (at that time about 28) Indonesian who had rapidly become a fixture on the auction scene as one of the biggest buyers of great Bordeaux and Burgundy, and who was also aggressively buying these wines through European and other brokers. Some of my earliest impressions of Rudy came through the highly entertaining tasting notes/travelogue that John Kapon was then publishing in hard copy—tales of nights spent drinking massive quantities of rare old wines until they—or at least John—passed out. I would also see Rudy at the occasional auction I attended, always bidding heavily. Though I did not realize it until many years later, Rudy by early 2005 (and perhaps before) had also started to sell fraudulent wines at auction, though for a long time he claimed he was only a buyer and never sold, one of many untruths he told to maintain the illusion—including his name, his family connections, the extent of his wealth. (The story, as it was then being circulated, was that he was the youngest son in an incredibly wealthy Indonesian family, whose older brothers had sent him to the US with an allowance of $1 million a month to stay out of the family businesses they were running.) While it is now known that Rudy Kurniawan is not his real name, and that he had been living here illegally for years, his family and background remain a mystery—as, more significantly, does the real source of the considerable amounts he was spending on wine and the good life.
How did he succeed, despite his sudden appearance from nowhere, in fooling so many people? The cornerstone of the scheme, I believe, was that he liberally and even lavishly served real, great wines both to his intended “marks” and also to critics and to acknowledged connoisseurs, then sold the marks fake versions of the wines that they had drunk with such pleasure and that both the critics and knowledgeable friends were extolling. Again, for those who would believe every bottle he ever served was fake, let me repeat that this was not the case, and that if it had been, I seriously doubt the scheme would have succeeded. First, a great deal of Rudy’s entertaining, in New York at least, consisted of ordering $50,000 or more worth of wine off the lists at Cru or Veritas. These were not wines from his cellar; rather, the point was to reinforce the story that he was a generous trust-fund baby without a care in the world, just a party dude who loved to drink great wine. (My own exposure to this was limited to two or three of these events—I was certainly curious, and if the orgiastic, “because we can” nature of these events was repulsive, the chance to drink super-rare bottles provided an offsetting attraction. Ultimately, though, I began to feel uncomfortable being a recipient of this largesse from someone whose motives I could not discern—though it was only later that I began to have real doubts about what he was up to.) As only emerged much later, these sprees were in fact relatively cost-free, as Rudy would have the empty bottles returned to him and refill them, and I suspect that by the time he came to resell them, they may well have been worth even more than what he had paid for them, due to the rising market he was creating.
That rising market is the second nuance of this scheme. As far as I can tell, Rudy started out buying and then counterfeiting mostly Bordeaux and, among Burgundies, DRC. But he soon must have realized that there were easier wines to counterfeit, and turned his attention to other Burgundy producers, particularly Roumier and Rousseau. First, the variations in labeling, bottling, branding of corks and other practices of most Burgundy producers made it harder to create a uniform standard against which counterfeit bottles could be measured. Second, Rudy had a perfect foil in a major collector (and a good friend of mine), who bought these producers’ wines voraciously and almost regardless of price, so that Rudy could when he wished drive up the market for these wines simply by bidding aggressively, knowing that my friend would ultimately outbid him—and knowing also that he would help sustain demand for the additional bottles of these wines that Rudy would soon provide to the market. Small wonder, then, that this eventually led Rudy to begin reproducing wines from Ponsot, the same collector’s other favorite producer, though in the end it proved his undoing.
If the heart of the scheme was to open real bottles, and then sell fake versions of them, clearly Rudy had to serve wines not just from restaurant lists but more importantly from his own collection, both for his “marks” and others who might help spread the word. As one of the largest purchasers of rare wines in the worldwide market, Rudy had no shortage of genuine bottles to serve (and again, he could recoup his costs by refilling them with something else and reselling them). Rudy also possessed an excellent palate–though I suspect he may have used a few parlor tricks to identify wines in blind tastings. My impression was that he was very good at analyzing and remembering tastes, certainly far superior to some of the wealthy label drinkers with whom he often consorted. But the group around Rudy also included some quite discerning collectors, with palates and a depth of knowledge superior to his. Nonetheless, impressed by what they tasted, they provided credibility for him with less-knowledgeable collectors. Indeed, some of them fell for the con as well, presuming that when their new friend sold them bottles privately, they were from the same source as what they had tasted, and that they were getting in on the “inside.”
It is hard to pinpoint, after so many years, just when my doubts began. At Acker’s Top 100 tasting in October 2004, there was considerable talk about how a number of the Bordeaux were clear or probable fakes (in the former category, a magnum of ’59 Ch. Haut Brion that tasted like a cheap Rhone; in the latter, a magnum of ’47 Lafleur), though the Burgundies generally fared better. Rudy was at this tasting, and I recall his crowing about how well the bottles he had supplied had shown—though whether that was true or not, I could not say, as he didn’t identify which were his. However, by the next year, at Acker’s follow-up event, the Top 100 All-Stars tasting in October 2005, I began to have real questions, as did my friend Allen Meadows, about a number of the Burgundies, including bottles of Romanée-Conti, that Rudy had supplied. But as these were wines few of us had ever tasted before, and they were plausible even if counterfeit, I did not detect much doubt among my fellow tasters, and even among those of us who did have doubts, we still were inclined toward the possibility that the provider of those wines had himself been duped.
When “The Cellar” sale at Acker took place in January 2006, it seemed natural to me (though apparently not to others) to wonder whether this amazing flood of Roumier, Rousseau, etc. could in fact be real. Here were wines produced in miniscule quantities, of which I had seldom seen more than single bottles despite many years of searching, now available in case+ quantities. Thus, the six-month unconditional guarantee that Rudy offered seemed to provide a good opportunity to test my and others’ doubts. As my good friend Don Stott had bought a substantial number of the Roumiers and Rousseaus, he and a group of us hatched the idea of putting the Roumier bottles to the test–and of inviting Christophe Roumier to join us.
Before that tasting could take place, the October 2006 Cellar II sale occurred, and that sale raised further doubts about how so many of these ultra-rare bottles could suddenly have surfaced. In the run-up to Cellar II, I had the opportunity, along with Allen Meadows, to taste some of the Burgundies being offered in that sale. The formal pre-sale tasting was held downstairs in the private room at Cru. Allen had been invited, but was leaving on a late flight to France, and in any event was really only interested in the Burgundies (there was plenty of Bordeaux being served as well), so he suggested that he and I have a bite to eat in the bar at Cru and arrange to get a taste of the Burgundies being served that night. It was an interesting experience, instructive then and even more so in retrospect. To reiterate what I have said before, Rudy owned, and served when it suited his purposes, many great bottles, and certainly the ’62 Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Bèze we tasted that night (Rousseau’s first Bèze) was both authentic and spectacular. Rudy’s purpose, as I later learned, was to validate the numerous bottles, of what was supposedly the same wine, that would appear in the sale the next day. Indeed, at the time, John Kapon was giving voice to the proposition that the only way to tell for sure whether or not a bottle was real, was to open and taste it. If you believe that an experienced taster can develop sufficient proficiency to distinguish real from fake among wines he or she is familiar with—something I definitely do believe—then John’s proposition seems true enough, as far as it goes. The problem, though, is that tasting one real bottle doesn’t assure that the rest of the bottles, despite identical labels/corks/capsules, are also authentic. And as we were to learn from the Roumier tasting, Rudy had developed an interesting twist on this as well.
However, if there certainly were several real bottles that we tasted that night, there were also several that seemed highly questionable. Among the latter was a ’59 Ponsot Clos de la Roche Vieilles Vignes, which had a remarkable level of acidity for a ’59—a polite way of saying it was very unlikely to have been from that vintage. Similarly, a ’59 Roumier Musigny, a super-rare bottle of which there were perhaps a little over 200 produced under the Roumier label (yet there were 12 on sale in the Cellar II auction in addition to the 6 that had already been sold in the Cellar I auction), seemed quite dubious, as did several of the other wines. Nonetheless, as I later learned, the group gathered downstairs, primed with plenty of Champagne, drinking not spitting, and in the presence of their ever-generous host, did not find reasons to be skeptical.
At that point, though I had developed serious concerns about the number of questionable wines coming via Rudy, I still was not fully ready to believe that he was participating in a fraudulent scheme. In this, I was still influenced, no doubt, by Rudy’s disorganized, slacker dude demeanor, reinforced by the story I had heard from John Kapon about how he and a team had had to go out to LA to pick out and pack up the wines from Rudy’s cellar at the last minute, because Rudy could never get around to it himself. It also still did not seem implausible that, with his voracious buying, Rudy—despite his self-proclaimed ability to spot fakes—had picked up a significant number of them that had gone into his cellar sight unseen. And for every questionable bottle I’d had from him, there were several—like that ’62 Rousseau Bèze —that were unforgettably great.
Three months later, in January 2007, the long-planned Roumier tasting finally took place, and the delay allowed us to include some additional bottles that Don Stott had purchased in the Cellar II auction. Christophe Roumier participated in the tasting, as did Allen Meadows, Tim Kopec and other tasters with long experience of Roumier wines. In all, we tasted 15 bottles of Roumier (6 Musigny, 8 Bonnes Mares and 1 Amoureuses), of which 11 had been purchased from the two “Cellar” auctions and 4 from other sources. Other than with respect to one bottle, there was no difference whatsoever in the conclusions of the tasters. Of the bottles sourced from the two “Cellar” auctions, 3 were clearly authentic—and superb–6 were clearly fraudulent, one was corked, and one was probably but not clearly fraudulent. Among the wines deemed fraudulent was a bottle of the ’59 Musigny, which had aroused our skepticism the prior October, as well as the ’55 Musigny (two bottles were tasted), clearly a wine from grapes grown well south of Burgundy, and the ’45 and ’29 Bonnes Mares (the latter also not a Pinot Noir).
The high number of fraudulent wines was clearly disturbing, but what was in a way more disturbing was the apparent randomness of the bottles deemed authentic. The labels on the fraudulent bottles were surprisingly pristine for wines that were ostensibly 50-85 years old, and there were other label and capsule issues; however, the authentic bottles looked much the same (in other words, in this case it wasn’t that the fakes looked real; rather, the real bottles looked fake). Also, most of the bottles we drank, fraudulent and genuine, had been pulled at random from a larger quantity of the same wine that had been purchased. What to make of this? Our supposition was that in order to remove whatever doubt the new and questionable labels might have engendered, the authentic bottles Rudy had served at tastings were given the new labels as well. For example, a bottle of ’62 Roumier Musigny with a pristine-looking label would naturally raise some questions. But if you serve a real bottle onto which you’ve applied the same pristine label, then you can overcome many of the suspicions that such a label would otherwise raise. All that needs to be added is a story about why the labels are so new-looking (one version I heard was that the bottles had been stored in the Nicolas cellar outside Paris since release and that because the original labels had deteriorated, they had all been re-labeled prior to sale.) Yet there must have been some way for the forger to tell which bottles were authentic, and could be served, though we were in our examination unable to discern what that was. Also, assuming there was indeed some inconspicuous way of telling good from bad, then Rudy would have been able to reach into a case and, seemingly at random, pull out a bottle that could be opened and “prove” the authenticity of the remaining inauthentic bottles.
(One curious phenomenon I have not been able to sort out is the substantial difference in the quality of the fakes that Rudy produced during his career—as noted for example in the Roumier tasting, a number of bottles were not even Pinot Noir—yet in other cases Rudy clearly was also substituting lesser or younger vintages (perhaps with some clever mixing) for older and rarer, which is much less easy to detect unless one is fairly familiar with the vintage in question (and which may have been the case with some of the Romanée-Contis at the Top 100 All-Stars tasting), and eventually he started substituting relatively inexpensive negociant Burgundy of the same vintage and appellation for top-producer wines few had ever tasted before, which made the frauds even harder to detect.)
Nevertheless, the results of the Roumier tasting, reflecting that more than 60% of our sample of some of the most desirable wines in the “Cellar” auctions were fraudulent, made it abundantly clear that one could no longer credit the possibility that the number of fraudulent wines was incidental and to be expected given how much Rudy was buying and how little control he was exercising over his purchases. At this level of fakes, the only realistic explanation was that he was a witting medium for the distribution of a significant amount of fraudulent wines. At this point, though, the extent and purpose of the fraud were still unclear, as despite the significant number of fakes among the trophy wines, a number of the other wines tasted from the two Cellar sales, especially but not exclusively the non-trophy wines, had not been fraudulent. Among the questions we left the tasting with were where were the fakes coming from, who was manufacturing them, what proportion of his wines were fake and what genuine, and how—other than by opening and drinking them–could one reliably tell which was which?
And for me personally, the results of this tasting raised another serious issue. By early 2007 when the Roumier tasting took place, preparations were nearly complete for a major tasting of Romanée-Conti that I had, along with Michael Rockefeller and Allen Meadows, been planning for over two years. This tasting, which eventually became the most comprehensive tasting of Romanée-Conti ever held, with 74 vintages represented going back to 1870, had already been postponed more than once–first because we did not have all the wines we wanted and later in order to accommodate Aubert de Villaine’s schedule. As a major collector of Romanée-Conti, Rudy had been invited when the planning was initially underway back in 2005–well before the first Cellar sale took place–and as with everyone else coming to the tasting, he was expected to provide some of the wines. What if some of the wines he had already sent a year in advance, at my insistence, were fraudulent? The thought chilled me.
The first step was to examine all the bottles Rudy had provided. Fortunately, most were from the hardest-to-find vintages, which were not, as one might think, the great vintages, but rather the off vintages that few had kept, but that no one would bother to fake (and indeed, it appears that Rudy became an avid collector of those off-vintages of Romanée-Conti, presumably because something such as the ’63 or ’65 could be readily “upgraded,” with a little assistance, to a far more expensive vintage). Nonetheless, I took pains to examine the labels, capsules and corks carefully. Second, we had already made sure to have back-up bottles from separate sources of most vintages, so that in case a particular bottle was “off” for some reason, it could readily be replaced with a bottle from an entirely different source. Third, Rudy still had a track record of producing real bottles for important public occasions, and the presence at our tasting of Aubert de Villaine seemed likely to dissuade him from trying to slip through any fake bottles. But one issue could not be avoided: the 1945, the holy grail of Burgundy, of which only 608 bottles were ever produced. Years of searching had turned up only one bottle, belonging to Rudy. Nor did it help my frame of mind that I had already tasted two bottles of this wine provided by him (at the Top 100 All-Stars tasting described above), neither of which seemed real. Nonetheless, I was at least partly relieved to see that the label, capsule and bottle all appeared authentic and that the bottle for our tasting did not have the same questionable import strip labels that were on several of the bottles he had brought to that Acker tasting.
In the event, our tasting (which is described at length in Allen Meadows’s book, Pearl of the Côte,) was thankfully not marred by fraudulent bottles (as confirmed by Aubert de Villaine–and given the total immersion of tasting 74 vintages of Romanée-Conti over three days, each vintage in the context of comparable vintages of the era, even a well-crafted fake would have stood out in bold relief). When it came to the ’45, I quietly held my breath, but fortunately I had guessed right, and Rudy had sacrificed a real bottle for the occasion (we all signed the label afterwards, so it could not have been reused). It was, and remains, the best bottle of wine I have ever had, fully deserving of the accolades that Allen accords it in Pearl. Indeed Aubert, as always, had the last word, calling this ‘45 “the lost voice of Romanée-Conti” (it was the last vintage of this wine from pre-phylloxera rootstock, which imparts a special texture to the wine that is recognizably different from more modern examples). Having now had the real thing, it also made me more certain than ever that the two bottles Rudy had supplied to the Top 100 All-Stars had been concocted. (As was another bottle, tasted two years later, that had been purchased from Rudy; as with the Top 100 All-Stars bottles, it seemed a reasonably well-crafted fake, but a fake nonetheless.)
As a coda to the tasting, we asked the participants if they would like to take home any bottles as souvenirs of the occasion. While some people did take home bottles, much to my surprise Rudy (who, I had assumed, would have no interest in empty bottles) asked to take back all the bottles he had brought. Though he claimed he wanted them to decorate a store he was going to open (with Paul Wasserman), it seemed odd, but I figured that, slacker that he seemed to be, he would forget about it. Not so; after about a month, he got in touch to ask if I’d sent them. At that point, I sent back a few full bottles of his that we hadn’t used in the tasting, but not the empties. But he did not let go, continuing to pester me, and finally I concluded that, since they were his bottles, and since at that point I had nothing other than vague discomfort to go on, I did not have a reasonable basis for treating him differently from the other participants. Only much later was I to learn that this was a pattern of behavior with Cru and probably others, and that he was refilling and reselling the bottles that were returned.
Subsequent to that tasting, I recall little interaction with Rudy until the following year. The story of the April 2008 Acker auction has been told a number of times, including in the Steinberger and Wallace articles, but as I was fated to play a significant role in those events, it may be worth recounting them from my perspective. It began when I started thumbing through Acker’s catalog, which though it was advertised as Rob Rosania’s sale also contained several sections, separately identified though not with his name, that were clearly Rudy’s wines. Many of the fraudulent or questionable Roumier and Rousseau bottles from the same vintages and appellations as in prior sales were back for yet another outing (three more ’59 Roumier Musigny, for example). When I reached the Ponsot section, with its pictures of 50+-year old bottles of Clos de la Roche with pristine labels and “Vieilles Vignes” designations where they shouldn’t have been, it was even more disturbing. However, what particularly caught my attention was the older Ponsot Clos St. Denis. My first reaction was surprise, in that I had never seen any Ponsot Clos St. Denis of this age, or indeed any older than 1985. My next reaction was curiosity, as to when Ponsot started producing Clos St. Denis, and a quick check of the website revealed that their agreement to produce this wine, from land belonging to the Mercier family (Domaine des Chézeaux), only started in the early ‘80s. Was it possible, though, that the Ponsot family had had some agreement, years earlier and since terminated–whether with the Merciers or someone else–to buy or make this wine? I asked another knowledgeable friend, who had also never seen any pre-1985 bottles before, and then got in touch with Allen Meadows. Coincidentally, he told me he had been served this wine at a pre-auction dinner in Los Angeles a day or two before and had also been suspicious about whether such a wine had actually been made by Ponsot. The three of us then decided we needed to get in touch with Laurent Ponsot, whom all of us knew well. Laurent was startled to hear that Acker was about to auction wines his family had, he assured us, never made.
We agreed I would call John Kapon to tell him that the wines he was about to auction did not exist, and that he had to pull them from the sale—along with the rest of the Ponsot wines in the auction, as Laurent had by then reviewed the catalog, and believed the other Ponsot wines to be fraudulent as well. John was clearly not happy about this, though he agreed to do it. He did not, however, want to make any announcement ahead of the sale. In discussing this with Laurent, he decided that he should change the itinerary for his forthcoming trip to the US, and attend the auction, to make sure John carried through and the wines were in fact withdrawn.
The day of the auction, Rudy spent the morning at Sotheby’s, outbidding a few of us for some very old, and very real, Faiveley bottling—which before that auction had not commanded high prices. I strongly suspect that had his world not begun to unravel that evening, large quantities of counterfeit old Faiveleys would soon have begun appearing on the market alongside the Roumiers, Rousseaus and Ponsots, and at the newly elevated market prices. In any event, that evening, John Kapon did announce during the sale that the Ponsot wines had been withdrawn at the request of the domaine, without further elaboration. I will never forget the chorus of boos that greeted this announcement, apparently from bidders keen to purchase these never-before-seen rarities.
Had it not been for those bottles of Ponsot Clos St. Denis that never existed, Rudy might not be sitting in jail today. Wine fraud is extremely difficult to prove, and often a matter of expert opinion in an arcane field, hardly the stuff a prosecutor likes to take to court ( it was only after Rudy was arrested that the search of his home turned up “smoking gun” evidence that showed he was actively manufacturing fake bottles). What brought him to make these particular bottles? His imprecise knowledge of Burgundian history had come close to tripping him up at least once before, when he offered for sale bottles of ’23 Roumier Bonnes Mares—the domaine was founded in 1924—but he, or someone, dreamed up the un-disprovable story that because the domaine’s plot of Bonnes Mares had come as a dowry from Georges Roumier’s wife in 1924, it was also possible that her dowry included a yet-unbottled cask or more of the prior vintage’s wine as well. Unlikely, but given that the domaine had no records from that era, and the principals were long dead, not disprovable. Indeed, several things have made counterfeiting Burgundies easier than Bordeaux. Many now-revered producers did not use branded corks until relatively recent decades, generic capsules were often the norm, and labeling practices were seldom uniform or precise. Because a vintage (even one deemed great) was often not sold out on release, bottles might be kept in the cellar at the domaine for years, always without labels, and released whenever a buyer could be found. If by the time they were sold the label design had changed, the new label might be used, or older, blank labels onto which the vintage date might be stamped rather than printed. Other inconsistencies, depending on particular markets, were also not uncommon. No thought was given to preventing counterfeiting; the producers could barely sell the wines themselves, what incentive would someone else have to counterfeit them?
Also, in the period leading up to production of the fake Ponsots, Rudy apparently had begun to purchase vast quantities of negociant Burgundies from the ‘60s and earlier, much of it from Patriarche, a mediocre negociant with huge stocks of old wines that were selling for, at most, a few hundred dollars a bottle (I am told he similarly bought inexpensive old magnums of Pomerols and Medocs in great quantities). Thus, for example, a bottle of 1959 Patriarche Clos de la Roche, which an expert might well identify by taste as both ’59 and Clos de la Roche, could be rebaptised with a Ponsot label, resold for fifty times the price, and (unlike the bottle of purported ’59 Clos de la Roche that Allen and I had tasted in October 2006, which was clearly not from the ’59 vintage), the forgery would be much harder to detect.
The older Ponsot Clos St. Denis, however, had never existed. After the auction, at John Kapon’s request, Laurent, John, Rudy and I had lunch, John’s idea being that Rudy could explain to Laurent where he had gotten these wines. At the luncheon, despite Laurent’s polite but insistent questioning, Rudy remained vague and evasive, claiming he needed to check to see where he got these wines (this from someone who remembered virtually every bottle he ever drank or bought!), telling Laurent he would give him the information but putting him off as long as he could, before ultimately (some months later) handing him a fake name and phone numbers. However, before we left, Rudy pulled me aside, and asked me a question that gave the game away: didn’t I remember, he asked, a particular bottle that he had purchased a couple of years earlier, after outbidding Don Stott? It was a ’47 Ponsot Clos St. Denis. Didn’t that show that Ponsot must have been making Clos St. Denis at least as far back as ’47? I confess I smirked a bit as I informed him that in fact I did remember the bottle, and because I was interested I had looked into it; while it was only catalogued as “Ponsot”, in fact the producer of that bottle was “Christine Ponsot,” no relation to Laurent or the Domaine, but rather a label used by a negociant (Emile Chandesais, Christine Ponsot’s husband) with a stock of older Burgundies to sell.
After the story of his attempt to sell the fake Ponsots became the subject of several press reports, Rudy seemed to go underground, and there were rumors he had for a time left the country. Meanwhile, Laurent Ponsot pursued his quest to discover the source of the fake wines, developing evidence that, he believes, will ultimately show that Rudy did not act alone. Laurent has throughout been tenacious, principled, and, sadly, often alone—for reasons I do not understand, his fellow producers seemed to take the attitude that counterfeiting of their wines was not something they needed to concern themselves with. Some of this may reflect the fact that many producers who have become celebrities of the wine world are uncomfortable in that role, and with the new world of trophy drinking in general, still viewing themselves as farmers whose job is to produce the best wine possible, and to sell it to support their families; anything else they see as a distraction that, given all the pressures on their time, they can ill-afford. Only recently has that mind-set begun to change and the threat to their reputations from fraud begun to be taken more seriously.
Rudy’s wines again resurfaced in the fall of 2009 when Christie’s brought a significant amount of them to market. (According to the initial Complaint filed by the Government in arresting him, Rudy had previously sold a number of these wines to a California collector, identified elsewhere as Andy Gordon, who tried to put them back to Rudy after becoming suspicious, but ultimately agreed to be repaid out of the proceeds of a sale by Rudy of these wines at Christie’s, where Rudy was never identified as the source of the wines.) However, a number of people, including Don Cornwell and Geoffrey Troy, recognized the wines as being from Rudy, and raised with Christie’s the issue of how they could sell these wines at auction, especially without disclosing the source. I also spoke with several people at Christie’s about this. It seemed then, as it does now, pure folly to risk tainting their reputation on an insubstantial aspect of their overall business, but Christies’ management decided otherwise, and went on to offer these wines at several sales in the US and abroad.
Because I had assumed that the Christie’s bottles were bottles Rudy or Mr. Gordon had been holding when the music stopped in April 2008, it did not occur to me that Rudy was still in the business of manufacturing and selling rare wines, until someone asked me if I had seen the catalog for the Spectrum London auction scheduled for early February of this year. One look at the on-line catalog was enough to convince me that these were yet more of the same Rudy bottlings (after a while, they got to have a recognizable look). I discussed this with Geoffrey Troy and Don Cornwell, and Don threw himself into this, eventually producing an amazing compendium of flaws in the purported DRCs on sale at Spectrum, which he then published as a vinous “J’Accuse” on the Wineberserkers bulletin board. (As an aside, the wine world owes Don Cornwell an enormous debt of gratitude for his incredible commitment to bringing this story to light, and for his continuing efforts to root out the many tentacles of Rudy’s fraud.) Don also collected evidence that the wines were being sold by Rudy through an intermediary, and that he had been using this route to sell wines through Spectrum for quite some time. Much has now been said on this subject, which can be followed at length on Wineberserkers and elsewhere. Unfortunately, Spectrum (which issued a series of wholly implausible denials), its London auction partner Vanquish, and their “experts” who authenticated these bottles, have yet to suffer fully the richly deserved consequences of their own arrogance and stupidity—or in this case, perhaps cupidity is the more appropriate word. Nonetheless, the uproar surrounding that sale galvanized action on the part of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, its UK and US agents, and the Domaine Comte de Vogüé, to have numerous questionable wines removed from the sale, finally overcoming the stonewalling that had initially greeted Cornwell’s revelations. Perhaps more importantly, the revelation that Rudy was continuing, with seeming impunity, to manufacture and sell millions of dollars of counterfeit wine in the marketplace, may have played a significant role in the government’s decision to arrest him.
What to make of this sorry history? Is it just another story about some gullible rich guys with more money than taste getting ripped off by a clever con artist? Partly, perhaps, but also I think you have to be part of the wine culture to understand the strong spirit of generosity among collectors. Wine, unlike many collectibles, cannot simply be fondled and then put back on the shelf; to be enjoyed, it needs to be opened, and that enjoyment is multiplied by sharing. Of course, there are some who are content to create mausoleums in their basements, where they can show off their treasures but never open any; but those are bottle collectors, not wine lovers. Among true wine aficionados, sharing bottles is a way of life (and if showing off sometimes vies with true generosity as a motive, well, that’s part of human nature too). What Rudy did, however, was to pervert that generous spirit into nothing more than another con game, and among its after-effects is a climate of suspicion that will last a long time, as each old bottle is held under a microscope and its flaws, real or imagined, debated. Even more unfortunately, thousands of fake bottles have made their way into collections world-wide and they will continue to surface, slowly, for many years to come. On the positive side, one can hope that exposing this fraud will galvanize action by the producers, both to play a more active role in helping to identify fraudulent older bottles, and to employ technologies that already exist to protect the legitimacy of the wines being produced today. If that occurs, then perhaps this long sad tale will not have a completely unhappy ending.
© 2012 Douglas E. Barzelay
A few years ago, after having played some role in exposing the attempted sale of a substantial number of fake Ponsot wines at auction, I recounted that story, with indignation, to a friend of mine who is a senior executive at a consumer products company. Why, he asked, was I surprised that people were faking expensive bottles of wine? “They’re out there faking our toothpaste.”
Ours is a world awash in fraudulent goods, but when it involves something closer to our hearts than a Rolex watch, we feel more aggrieved. Old wine, and especially old Burgundy, has been a passion of mine for a long time, and because for many years few people were interested, one could drink great old bottles of Burgundy with a minimum of concern, even during the years when rare old Bordeaux were being routinely faked. Unfortunately, sometime around the middle of the last decade, as Burgundy prices boomed, a small cottage industry began to produce significant quantities of old-vintage fakes, beginning inevitably with older DRCs (especially large formats) and de Vogüés, then infecting Jayer, Roumier, Rousseau, Ponsot and others. The auction houses that sold wines reacted in varying ways, but while one or two had the knowledge to spot the fakes and the character to refuse them, most turned a blind eye for as long as they could. Eventually, though, the glare of publicity, and several lawsuits, turned most of the auction houses considerably more cautious.
The fake Ponsots catalyzed a glare of attention on the forgeries, and for a time there seemed to be far fewer fraudulent old Burgundies on the market—and focus, in any case, seemed diverted as new markets in Asia went wild over 1982 Lafite and other Bordeaux, and the auction houses rushed to serve this new and burgeoning market. Nonetheless, those manufacturing the fake Burgundies had never been caught, and it appears that, emboldened by the emergence of a new, rich and unsophisticated cadre of collectors, they are back in business at the same old stand.
Too often markets that lack an effective regulatory mechanism—which may be sophisticated consumers or other gatekeepers, just as much as external, or even internal, regulators—become a race to the bottom (for which the mortgage “industry” still serves as a painful example). In the wine world, the recent Spectrum/Vanquish auction in London (February 8) was the wine auction world’s sorry example of this, as the auction house put on sale a large number of seemingly rare Burgundies with what turned out to be a highly questionable provenance. After trumpeting their alleged stringent vetting of these wines, they tried their best (or worst) to ignore the well-documented warnings of outside commentators before granting some credence, albeit both grudging and only partial, to the further warnings of several Burgundy domaines and their representatives. Yet as Don Cornwell has amply documented, the withdrawn lots were only a part of a much larger whole to which adequate (or even cursory) vetting seems not to have been applied. (Full disclosure—I was one of Don’s sources for information in comparing these questionable bottles with wines of known authenticity, though it is Don who deserves full credit for the thorough investigation he performed.)
While I suspect that the reverberations from that auction may continue for some time, it also makes sense to begin asking what can be done, if not to eliminate, at least to minimize, the amount of fraudulent wine that reaches the market.
The question for the auction houses is simple: do they not have a responsibility, from a business standpoint even if not a legal one, to their customers (buyers), to take reasonable measures to assure the quality and authenticity of what they sell? Certainly, they all concur in wanting us as buyers to think they do, with their staffs of “specialists” and their vivid catalog descriptions of long hours examining dusty bottles. Yet with few exceptions, this remains more in the realm of puffing than of actuality. What will change this? As are others, I am skeptical of the government’s ability to impose such responsibilities other than in the most ham-handed of fashions. On the other hand, self-regulation would require that the leading auction houses abide by uniform standards, which they seem reluctant to do for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, the issue is not going to go away, and the auction houses need to face up to it. While I don’t profess to have a neat set of answers, I would, in the interests of starting a dialogue, proffer a few observations and suggestions:
–wine fraud is never going to be totally eradicated. There’s just too much money in it, and those who think this is just a rich man’s game are dreaming; there’s plenty of it going on at more affordable levels. Nonetheless, the auction houses should provide a relatively safe zone for the trade in mature wines, not a wild-west atmosphere.
–the art market may provide some useful analogies. That market is still largely self-regulated. It is certainly not a perfect market, and fraud is still a serious issue. At least, however, it is an issue that is taken seriously. In the auction process provenance is typically carefully scrutinized, and not only do the auction houses and dealers take their vetting processes seriously, but a substantial role is played by outside experts who do not have an economic interest in the sale. For major artists, these third party experts are effectively gatekeepers, and the absence of a third party imprimatur can be an obvious signal to reasonably sophisticated buyers that there is likely to be a problem.
–while the wine auction business has largely paid lip service to the expertising process (though a couple of houses actually do take it seriously), the truth is the wine departments have had a lot of merchandise to move and a small number of underpaid and undertrained specialists, and have often failed to pay the attention to authentication needed to do the job correctly. At the same time, many of the consumers who have been spending large amounts at auction have had neither the time nor the detailed knowledge to do any serious due diligence–a lot of money was and is being freely spent by people who quite frankly are not sophisticated about what they’re buying. This relative lack of gatekeepers, or the demand for them, was what in my view opened the door for those who saw an opportunity to produce fraudulent bottles, and who really didn’t need to be too fastidious about the quality of the fakes they were producing.
–what can be done? If the auction houses truly want to get serious about this issue, then at a minimum, they need to hire a truly independent (and experienced) third party to vet the expensive/questionable bottles. Because of its widespread use in the art world, the idea of independent expert review will certainly not be a novelty to the large auction houses and if it became the norm there would be a viable business for a few different experts to do this for multiple auction houses and collectors. For it to work properly, however, there would need to be far greater cooperation from the producers. One of the difficult parts of the exercise in reviewing the Spectrum bottles was identifying reference standard labels, bottles, etc. Building a reliable database of information is going to be key to any such effort. The Domaines can be a huge help in this, and I think (hope) they would be more willing to do so, if the information were being given to third parties of known reliability. I would certainly hope, for example, that those campaigning for recognition of Burgundy as a world heritage site would not be short-sighted about the importance of preserving that heritage once its fruits are bottled and move out into the world.
–what is the appropriate standard of “authenticity”? There was a good deal of discussion on wineberserkers.com (where Don Cornwell first exposed the problems with the Spectrum/Vanquish auction) about whether DRC itself should “authenticate” wines, much of it unfortunately proceeding from the unstated, but incorrect, premise that this is something DRC could readily do if only it were willing to devote the resources to the task. While a number of Burgundy producers are at work on technologies that in the future may serve to prove whether a bottle is or is not what it purports to be, those experiments belong to this century. For older bottles, while an expert who examines a bottle should be able to tell if there are signs that it may not be what it purports to be, there are no comparable signs which would allow one to state with certainty that a bottle is “authentic.” Indeed, until relatively recently, few Burgundy producers had to concern themselves with fraudulent bottles (DRC was not even a profitable enterprise until sometime in the 1960s), which meant they were mostly concerned with how they would sell their production, not whether someone would be motivated to counterfeit it. Also, labeling practices in Burgundy were not always uniform, as wines might not be sold until years after the vintage, when new labels might be printed—although the existence of legitimate variations does not mean that all variations are legitimate. Other than branding corks, which only a few producers did at that time, no significant steps were taken to deter counterfeiting. But corks can be falsely branded, false labels can be printed (and made to look old), and of course corks, labels, capsules and bottles can all be pulled out of the dumpster and reused. As just one example, I have tasted a bottle of 1945 Rousseau Chambertin (so it said on the label), with a correct period bottle, capsule, label and even a branded cork—only what was in the bottle was not ’45 and not Chambertin. Of course, the best way to positively authenticate a bottle, without consuming it, is to have a clear record of its provenance. However, to ask a domaine, or outside expert, to say by examining the exterior of an old bottle of unknown provenance that what is inside is “authentic” is to ask them to do something beyond their capability. For this reason, what some auction houses have established as the operative criterion is not whether the bottles are authentic but whether they are sellable at auction. The key distinction is that one only has to establish that the bottle lacks adequate provenance, or presents issues of authenticity, to exclude it.
–The vetting process will not be foolproof, and liability issues for the experts need to be considered carefully. Two other problems are time—auction houses and collectors are going to have to adjust to longer lead times–and over-exclusion: i.e., the vetting process is by its nature going to require setting aside as unsellable not just obvious fakes, but also bottles whose provenance is murky, or that have questionable variations, but that may nonetheless be authentic and provide great drinking experiences.
–This problemof potential over-exclusion suggests that there may be a better way to look at this issue. Sotheby’s may currently do the best job of vetting its wine sales, but does anyone else share my view that these sales tend to be rather boring, especially for those whose interests in Burgundy extend beyond recent vintages of DRC and a handful of others? Once the obvious fakes are excluded, I think there still needs to be a “safe” market for those bottles that are neither of impeccable provenance, nor counterfeit—it just has to be a market in which they find their own level, and are not (as now) marketed and priced as if they had lain in some cold country house cellar since release. The possible model for achieving this is very different from the one the auction houses currently employ, and one that takes its cue from the securities industry: full disclosure of all material facts that would affect a reasonable buyer’s decision. Presumably, if everything relevant about provenance, condition and storage, is disclosed, then informed buyers can make their own decisions, and bottles will find different price levels depending on the perceived risk. This approach was used to some extent years ago by Chicago Wine Company, in its “caveat emptor” section—mostly bottles with severe ullage, or potential seepage, etc. but there’s no reason not to extend this to wines that, for example, have traded multiple times, or that seem correct but lack information on where they’ve been. Let those bottles find their own price level, based on honest reporting—the auction house has to say what it knows, after reasonable due diligence, and what it can’t find out (for example if sellers don’t have, or won’t produce, any records of purchase, that would be disclosed). It must be clear, though, that this is not just a variant of willful blindness. What should raise red (if not black) flags, is a complete lack of any information on the provenance of rare and expensive bottles. The silence of Spectrum/Vanquish on this point had to be disturbing to anyone concerned about authenticity—evidently including DRC among others. Real due diligence has to be a cornerstone of this approach, and I would advocate this be overseen by truly independent third parties, as a part of the expert review process outlined above, and not by in-house personnel whose compensation, or indeed continued employment, may be conditioned on their pliability. Nor should the auction houses be able to rely on “captive” third parties, whose retention similarly may depend on telling the auction house what it wants to hear.
–If the auction houses (or some of them) were willing to adopt this approach, then while certain sellers would for obvious reasons flee into the shadows, it could have several positives (beyond simply being the right and honest thing to do). First, I think it would provide a competitive advantage in terms of dealing with buyers, because buyers would presumably prefer to deal with a source they could trust (indeed, it might help bring to the auction market the large number of collectors who today regard the auction houses as a place to dump their trash, not as a source they would seriously consider buying from). Second, it would obviate the liability issues that are sure to be coming the way of auction houses that persist in dealing with fraudulent goods even when warned; and third, it might obviate the perception of a need to impose liability on all the auction houses through new laws and regulations.
— There will be several challenges for the auction houses in adopting such an approach. The first is the often chaotic nature of the auction process for wine, where large amounts of wine may arrive last minute, and all have to be appropriately examined for identification of the wine, label conditions, capsule conditions, etc. Slowing down the process while an expert chews over the most desirable bottles is not going to be appealing to the auction houses, but in fact right now some auction houses are doing this, and it doesn’t seem to measurably affect their ability to bring quality consignments to auction. Second, there is a risk of overkill in that small consignments of wines with no known counterfeit issues should not need to be subjected to the same depth of examination as large consignments of Lafite, DRC, etc. The biggest issue for the auction houses will likely be that of naming sellers, and others in the chain of title. While I would point out that even now, if you’re a big enough customer, the auction houses will quietly tell you who the seller is, there is concededly a big difference between that and publication, and it is one that clearly would hurt their ability to attract consignors. Nor is this just about questionable consignors not wanting to be identified; I have known plenty of people with great collections who would have balked if they thought that their moment of financial distress would become obvious to the world. However, this may not be as large a problem as it seems. On one side of the equation, some major consignors already understand the utility of attaching their names to their collections, and on the other, the number of bad actors whose names are widely recognized in the collector community is actually fairly small. So something would have to be worked out so that more information about consignors and others in the chain would be available in enough detail for it to be obvious when a bad actor was in the chain, but without clearly identifying individuals who have a reasonable expectation of privacy; nonetheless this seems like something that, once again, could adequately be controlled by a third party gatekeeper.
To summarize, I think that a system can be worked out to prevent most frauds, without legislative intervention—provided a critical mass of auction houses would be willing to do so. If I’m right, then given their current reluctance to step up, what may be needed is a little “gentle” encouragement from us, their customers—by making our preferences known in the way they will best understand, through our patronage of those who will stand up and do the right thing, and refusal to do business with those who won’t.