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December 18, 2013


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

The Domaines

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.

The Negociants

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

The Domaines

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.

Other Domaines:

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.

The Negociants:

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.

The Domaines:

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.

Other Domaines:

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.

The Negociants:

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


From → Tastings

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