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2015 Burgundies–Behind the Hype

December 13, 2016

 

Overview:

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.

RED BURGUNDIES

The Côte de Nuits

 The Domaines:

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.

The Negociants:

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

 The Domaines:

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.

WHITE BURGUNDIES

 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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