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THE RISE AND FALL OF A WINE COUNTERFEITER

With the arrest of Rudy Kurniawan (on March 8, 2012), an extraordinary chapter in the history of wine fraud has begun to close. Two recent articles, Mike Steinberger’s A Vintage Crime in Vanity Fair, and Ben Wallace’s Château Sucker in New York, have ably chronicled the facts as we now know them, though I strongly suspect that further revelations may emerge.

Of course fraudulent wine is neither a contemporary phenomenon nor one that will disappear with Rudy’s arrest. But what has happened in the decade in which Rudy Kurniawan flourished and then fell represents a loss of innocence, especially for Burgundy lovers, as what was once an insular province of connoisseurs, sharing dusty bottles while speaking a language few outsiders understood, became part of the larger marketplace for luxury goods, now eagerly sought as a badge of success by a rising class of wealthy consumers around the globe. Well within the term of memory, great wines, especially older Burgundies, were relatively affordable, and still treated with the deference due subtle and ineffable pleasures, rather than brandished as expensive trophies in contests of conspicuous consumption.  Those of us who experienced it can mourn the passing of that era but we cannot bring it back.

Because my perspective is that of someone passionate about old Burgundy, and because I ultimately came to play a small role in Rudy’s downfall, I thought that it might be useful to tell the story of Rudy Kurniawan’s rise and fall as I saw it.  I do not pretend to bring the kind of reportorial skills or narrative scope to this story that either Steinberger or Wallace did. What I hope to be able to do is to set down, as faithfully as I can recall, my observations and impressions during the time when Rudy was a major figure in the world of rare wine, well before the denouement of this extraordinary tale was known.

There are more than a few parallels between Rudy’s career and that of Hardy Rodenstock a generation earlier. Rodenstock’s fraudulent career, though, however splashy the “Jefferson” bottles of supposed 18th Century Bordeaux made it, was more limited in scope than Rudy’s became. Interest in wine among a new and wealthy audience, where labels were far more important than the liquid inside, had certainly been growing for many years.  But Rudy’s arrival seemed to coincide with a new bacchanalian era, in which investment bankers and real estate moguls dueled not with pistols but with magnums of ’47 Château Lafleur and jeroboams of ’62 La Tâche. And Rudy was able to take advantage of a certain credulousness that went with this growing hunger for the old and rare–the fervent desire of these collectors to believe that their wealth and aggressiveness had given them unique access to trophies others could not have, compounded with a lack of knowledge both of how improbable it was that these rarities still existed in such large quantities, and of what these great wines were supposed to taste like. And where Rodenstock had largely confined himself to top Bordeaux, Rudy’s fraud, beginning there, soon began creeping into hitherto relatively untouched corners of the wine world, particularly Burgundy.

Even now, there is still little understanding of how this baby-faced young man rose, seemingly from nowhere, to the point where he could fool many of the world’s wealthiest collectors.  Those who became a part of his world were, for the most part, badly burned and are understandably not eager to talk, while a fair amount of the internet commentary, indulging itself in an orgy of schadenfreude, has assumed every bottle he served or sold must have been fake and that everyone who ever drank wines with, or bought wines from, Rudy had to have been either a dupe or an enabler. As so often happens with tales that capture the broader imagination, events and characters get reduced to black and white, and all nuance is lost. The story of how he was able to fool so many bright, successful people for so long is however more complex—and ultimately more interesting.

I first became aware of Rudy by reputation; as best I can recall, this was probably sometime in early or mid 2004. His reputation as it came to me was that of a rich, young (at that time about 28) Indonesian who had rapidly become a fixture on the auction scene as one of the biggest buyers of great Bordeaux and Burgundy, and who was also aggressively buying these wines through European and other brokers. Some of my earliest impressions of Rudy came through the highly entertaining tasting notes/travelogue that John Kapon was then publishing in hard copy—tales of nights spent drinking massive quantities of rare old wines until they—or at least John—passed out.  I would also see Rudy at the occasional auction I attended, always bidding heavily.  Though I did not realize it until many years later, Rudy by early 2005 (and perhaps before) had also started to sell fraudulent wines at auction, though for a long time he claimed he was only a buyer and never sold, one of many untruths he told to maintain the illusion—including his name, his family connections, the extent of his wealth. (The story, as it was then being circulated, was that he was the youngest son in an incredibly wealthy Indonesian family, whose older brothers had sent him to the US with an allowance of $1 million a month to stay out of the family businesses they were running.) While it is now known that Rudy Kurniawan is not his real name, and that he had been living here illegally for years, his family and background remain a mystery—as, more significantly, does the real source of the considerable amounts he was spending on wine and the good life.

How did he succeed, despite his sudden appearance from nowhere, in fooling so many people? The cornerstone of the scheme, I believe, was that he liberally and even lavishly served real, great wines both to his intended “marks” and also to critics and to acknowledged connoisseurs, then sold the marks fake versions of the wines that they had drunk with such pleasure and that both the critics and knowledgeable friends were extolling. Again, for those who would believe every bottle he ever served was fake, let me repeat that this was not the case, and that if it had been, I seriously doubt the scheme would have succeeded. First, a great deal of Rudy’s entertaining, in New York at least, consisted of ordering $50,000 or more worth of wine off the lists at Cru or Veritas.  These were not wines from his cellar; rather, the point was to reinforce the story that he was a generous trust-fund baby without a care in the world, just a party dude who loved to drink great wine. (My own exposure to this was limited to two or three of these events—I was certainly curious, and if the orgiastic, “because we can” nature of these events was repulsive, the chance to drink super-rare bottles provided an offsetting attraction.  Ultimately, though, I began to feel uncomfortable being a recipient of this largesse from someone whose motives I could not discern—though it was only later that I began to have real doubts about what he was up to.)  As only emerged much later, these sprees were in fact relatively cost-free, as Rudy would have the empty bottles returned to him and refill them, and I suspect that by the time he came to resell them, they may well have been worth even more than what he had paid for them, due to the rising market he was creating.

That rising market is the second nuance of this scheme. As far as I can tell, Rudy started out buying and then counterfeiting mostly Bordeaux and, among Burgundies, DRC.  But he soon must have realized that there were easier wines to counterfeit, and turned his attention to other Burgundy producers, particularly Roumier and Rousseau. First, the variations in labeling, bottling, branding of corks and other practices of most Burgundy producers made it harder to create a uniform standard against which counterfeit bottles could be measured. Second, Rudy had a perfect foil in a major collector (and a good friend of mine), who bought these producers’ wines voraciously and almost regardless of price, so that Rudy could when he wished drive up the market for these wines simply by bidding aggressively, knowing that my friend would ultimately outbid him—and knowing also that he would help sustain demand for the additional bottles of these wines that Rudy would soon provide to the market.  Small wonder, then, that this eventually led Rudy to begin reproducing wines from Ponsot, the same collector’s other favorite producer, though in the end it proved his undoing.

If the heart of the scheme was to open real bottles, and then sell fake versions of them, clearly Rudy had to serve wines not just from restaurant lists but more importantly from his own collection, both for his “marks” and others who might help spread the word.  As one of the largest purchasers of rare wines in the worldwide market, Rudy had no shortage of genuine bottles to serve (and again, he could recoup his costs by refilling them with something else and reselling them).  Rudy also possessed an excellent palate–though I suspect he may have used a few parlor tricks to identify wines in blind tastings.  My impression was that he was very good at analyzing and remembering tastes, certainly far superior to some of the wealthy label drinkers with whom he often consorted. But the group around Rudy also included some quite discerning collectors, with palates and a depth of knowledge superior to his.  Nonetheless, impressed by what they tasted, they provided credibility for him with less-knowledgeable collectors.  Indeed, some of them fell for the con as well, presuming that when their new friend sold them bottles privately, they were from the same source as what they had tasted, and that they were getting in on the “inside.”

It is hard to pinpoint, after so many years, just when my doubts began.   At Acker’s Top 100 tasting in October 2004, there was considerable talk about how a number of the Bordeaux were clear or probable fakes (in the former category, a magnum of ’59 Ch. Haut Brion that tasted like a cheap Rhone; in the latter, a magnum of ’47 Lafleur), though the Burgundies generally fared better. Rudy was at this tasting, and I recall his crowing about how well the bottles he had supplied had shown—though whether that was true or not, I could not say, as he didn’t identify which were his.  However, by the next year, at Acker’s follow-up event, the Top 100 All-Stars tasting in October 2005, I began to have real questions, as did my friend Allen Meadows, about a number of the Burgundies, including bottles of Romanée-Conti, that Rudy had supplied.  But as these were wines few of us had ever tasted before, and they were plausible even if counterfeit, I did not detect much doubt among my fellow tasters, and even among those of us who did have doubts, we still were inclined toward the possibility that the provider of those wines had himself been duped.

When “The Cellar” sale at Acker took place in January 2006, it seemed natural to me (though apparently not to others) to wonder whether this amazing flood of Roumier, Rousseau, etc. could in fact be real. Here were wines produced in miniscule quantities, of which I had seldom seen more than single bottles despite many years of searching, now available in case+ quantities.  Thus, the six-month unconditional guarantee that Rudy offered seemed to provide a good opportunity to test my and others’ doubts.  As my good friend Don Stott had bought a substantial number of the Roumiers and Rousseaus, he and a group of us hatched the idea of putting the Roumier bottles to the test–and of inviting Christophe Roumier to join us.

Before that tasting could take place, the October 2006 Cellar II sale occurred, and that sale raised further doubts about how so many of these ultra-rare bottles could suddenly have surfaced. In the run-up to Cellar II, I had the opportunity, along with Allen Meadows, to taste some of the Burgundies being offered in that sale. The formal pre-sale tasting was held downstairs in the private room at Cru. Allen had been invited, but was leaving on a late flight to France, and in any event was really only interested in the Burgundies (there was plenty of Bordeaux being served as well), so he suggested that he and I have a bite to eat in the bar at Cru and arrange to get a taste of the Burgundies being served that night. It was an interesting experience, instructive then and even more so in retrospect. To reiterate what I have said before, Rudy owned, and served when it suited his purposes, many great bottles, and certainly the ’62 Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Bèze we tasted that night (Rousseau’s first Bèze) was both authentic and spectacular. Rudy’s purpose, as I later learned, was to validate the numerous bottles, of what was supposedly the same wine, that would appear in the sale the next day. Indeed, at the time, John Kapon was giving voice to the proposition that the only way to tell for sure whether or not a bottle was real, was to open and taste it. If you believe that an experienced taster can develop sufficient proficiency to distinguish real from fake among wines he or she is familiar with—something I definitely do believe—then John’s proposition seems true enough, as far as it goes.  The problem, though, is that tasting one real bottle doesn’t assure that the rest of the bottles, despite identical labels/corks/capsules, are also authentic. And as we were to learn from the Roumier tasting, Rudy had developed an interesting twist on this as well.

However, if there certainly were several real bottles that we tasted that night, there were also several that seemed highly questionable.  Among the latter was a ’59 Ponsot Clos de la Roche Vieilles Vignes, which had a remarkable level of acidity for a ’59—a polite way of saying it was very unlikely to have been from that vintage. Similarly, a ’59 Roumier Musigny, a super-rare bottle of which there were perhaps a little over 200 produced under the Roumier label (yet there were 12 on sale in the Cellar II auction in addition to the 6 that had already been sold in the Cellar I auction), seemed quite dubious, as did several of the other wines. Nonetheless, as I later learned, the group gathered downstairs, primed with plenty of Champagne, drinking not spitting, and in the presence of their ever-generous host, did not find reasons to be skeptical.

At that point, though I had developed serious concerns about the number of questionable wines coming via Rudy, I still was not fully ready to believe that he was participating in a fraudulent scheme. In this, I was still influenced, no doubt, by Rudy’s disorganized, slacker dude demeanor, reinforced by the story I had heard from John Kapon about how he and a team had had to go out to LA to pick out and pack up the wines from Rudy’s cellar at the last minute, because Rudy could never get around to it himself. It also still did not seem implausible that, with his voracious buying, Rudy—despite his self-proclaimed ability to spot fakes—had picked up a significant number of them that had gone into his cellar sight unseen. And for every questionable bottle I’d had from him, there were several—like that ’62 Rousseau Bèze —that were unforgettably great.

Three months later, in January 2007, the long-planned Roumier tasting finally took place, and the delay allowed us to include some additional bottles that Don Stott had purchased in the Cellar II auction. Christophe Roumier participated in the tasting, as did Allen Meadows, Tim Kopec and other tasters with long experience of Roumier wines. In all, we tasted 15 bottles of Roumier (6 Musigny, 8 Bonnes Mares and 1 Amoureuses), of which 11 had been purchased from the two “Cellar” auctions and 4 from other sources.  Other than with respect to one bottle, there was no difference whatsoever in the conclusions of the tasters. Of the bottles sourced from the two “Cellar” auctions, 3 were clearly authentic—and superb–6 were clearly fraudulent, one was corked, and one was probably but not clearly fraudulent. Among the wines deemed fraudulent was a bottle of the ’59 Musigny, which had aroused our skepticism the prior October, as well as the ’55 Musigny (two bottles were tasted), clearly a wine from grapes grown well south of Burgundy, and the ’45 and ’29 Bonnes Mares (the latter also not a Pinot Noir).

The high number of fraudulent wines was clearly disturbing, but what was in a way more disturbing was the apparent randomness of the bottles deemed authentic.  The labels on the fraudulent bottles were surprisingly pristine for wines that were ostensibly 50-85 years old, and there were other label and capsule issues; however, the authentic bottles looked much the same (in other words, in this case it wasn’t that the fakes looked real; rather, the real bottles looked fake). Also, most of the bottles we drank, fraudulent and genuine, had been pulled at random from a larger quantity of the same wine that had been purchased.  What to make of this? Our supposition was that in order to remove whatever doubt the new and questionable labels might have engendered, the authentic bottles Rudy had served at tastings were given the new labels as well. For example, a bottle of ’62 Roumier Musigny with a pristine-looking label would naturally raise some questions.  But if you serve a real bottle onto which you’ve applied the same pristine label, then you can overcome many of the suspicions that such a label would otherwise raise. All that needs to be added is a story about why the labels are so new-looking (one version I heard was that the bottles had been stored in the Nicolas cellar outside Paris since release and that because the original labels had deteriorated, they had all been re-labeled prior to sale.)  Yet there must have been some way for the forger to tell which bottles were authentic, and could be served, though we were in our examination unable to discern what that was. Also, assuming there was indeed some inconspicuous way of telling good from bad, then Rudy would have been able to reach into a case and, seemingly at random, pull out a bottle that could be opened and “prove” the authenticity of the remaining inauthentic bottles.

(One curious phenomenon I have not been able to sort out is the substantial difference in the quality of the fakes that Rudy produced during his career—as noted for example in the Roumier tasting, a number of bottles were not even Pinot Noir—yet in other cases Rudy clearly was also substituting lesser or younger vintages (perhaps with some clever mixing) for older and rarer, which is much less easy to detect unless one is fairly familiar with the vintage in question (and which may have been the case with some of the Romanée-Contis at the Top 100 All-Stars tasting), and eventually he started substituting relatively inexpensive negociant Burgundy of the same vintage and appellation for top-producer wines few had ever tasted before, which made the frauds even harder to detect.)

Nevertheless, the results of the Roumier tasting, reflecting that more than 60% of our sample of some of the most desirable wines in the “Cellar” auctions were fraudulent, made it abundantly clear that one could no longer credit the possibility that the number of fraudulent wines was incidental and to be expected given how much Rudy was buying and how little control he was exercising over his purchases. At this level of fakes, the only realistic explanation was that he was a witting medium for the distribution of a significant amount of fraudulent wines.  At this point, though, the extent and purpose of the fraud were still unclear, as despite the significant number of fakes among the trophy wines, a number of the other wines tasted from the two Cellar sales, especially but not exclusively the non-trophy wines, had not been fraudulent. Among the questions we left the tasting with were where were the fakes coming from, who was manufacturing them, what proportion of his wines were fake and what genuine, and how—other than by opening and drinking them–could one reliably tell which was which?

And for me personally, the results of this tasting raised another serious issue. By early 2007 when the Roumier tasting took place, preparations were nearly complete for a major tasting of Romanée-Conti that I had, along with Michael Rockefeller and Allen Meadows, been planning for over two years. This tasting, which eventually became the most comprehensive tasting of Romanée-Conti ever held, with 74 vintages represented going back to 1870,  had already been postponed more than once–first because we did not have all the wines we wanted and later in order to accommodate Aubert de Villaine’s schedule.  As a major collector of Romanée-Conti, Rudy had been invited when the planning was initially underway back in 2005–well before the first Cellar sale took place–and as with everyone else coming to the tasting, he was expected to provide some of the wines. What if some of the wines he had already sent a year in advance, at my insistence, were fraudulent?  The thought chilled me.

The first step was to examine all the bottles Rudy had provided. Fortunately, most were from the hardest-to-find vintages, which were not, as one might think, the great vintages, but rather the off vintages that few had kept, but that no one would bother to fake (and indeed, it appears that Rudy became an avid collector of those off-vintages of Romanée-Conti, presumably because something such as the ’63 or ’65 could be readily “upgraded,” with a little assistance, to a far more expensive vintage).  Nonetheless, I took pains to examine the labels, capsules and corks carefully.  Second, we had already made sure to have back-up bottles from separate sources of most vintages, so that in case a particular bottle was “off” for some reason, it could readily be replaced with a bottle from an entirely different source.  Third, Rudy still had a track record of producing real bottles for important public occasions, and the presence at our tasting of Aubert de Villaine seemed likely to dissuade him from trying to slip through any fake bottles. But one issue could not be avoided: the 1945, the holy grail of Burgundy, of which only 608 bottles were ever produced.  Years of searching had turned up only one bottle, belonging to Rudy.  Nor did it help my frame of mind that I had already tasted two bottles of this wine provided by him (at the Top 100 All-Stars tasting described above), neither of which seemed real. Nonetheless, I was at least partly relieved to see that the label, capsule and bottle all appeared authentic and that the bottle for our tasting did not have the same questionable import strip labels that were on several of the bottles he had brought to that Acker tasting.

In the event, our tasting (which is described at length in Allen Meadows’s book, Pearl of the Côte,) was thankfully not marred by fraudulent bottles (as confirmed by Aubert de Villaine–and given the total immersion of tasting 74 vintages of Romanée-Conti over three days, each vintage in the context of comparable vintages of the era, even a well-crafted fake would have stood out in bold relief). When it came to the ’45, I quietly held my breath, but fortunately I had guessed right, and Rudy had sacrificed a real bottle for the occasion (we all signed the label afterwards, so it could not have been reused). It was, and remains, the best bottle of wine I have ever had, fully deserving of the accolades that Allen accords it in Pearl. Indeed Aubert, as always, had the last word, calling this ‘45 “the lost voice of  Romanée-Conti” (it was the last vintage of this wine from pre-phylloxera rootstock, which imparts a special texture to the wine that is recognizably different from more modern examples).  Having now had the real thing, it also made me more certain than ever that the two bottles Rudy had supplied to the Top 100 All-Stars had been concocted.  (As was another bottle, tasted two years later, that had been purchased from Rudy; as with the Top 100 All-Stars bottles, it seemed a reasonably well-crafted fake, but a fake nonetheless.)

As a coda to the tasting, we asked the participants if they would like to take home any bottles as souvenirs of the occasion. While some people did take home bottles, much to my surprise Rudy (who, I had assumed, would have no interest in empty bottles) asked to take back all the bottles he had brought. Though he claimed he wanted them to decorate a store he was going to open (with Paul Wasserman), it seemed odd, but I figured that, slacker that he seemed to be, he would forget about it. Not so; after about a month, he got in touch to ask if I’d sent them. At that point, I sent back a few full bottles of his that we hadn’t used in the tasting, but not the empties. But he did not let go, continuing to pester me, and finally I concluded that, since they were his bottles, and since at that point I had nothing other than vague discomfort to go on, I did not have a reasonable basis for treating him differently from the other participants. Only much later was I to learn that this was a pattern of behavior with Cru and probably others, and that he was refilling and reselling the bottles that were returned.

Subsequent to that tasting, I recall little interaction with Rudy until the following year. The story of the April 2008 Acker auction has been told a number of times, including in the Steinberger and Wallace articles, but as I was fated to play a significant role in those events, it may be worth recounting them from my perspective.   It began when I started thumbing through Acker’s catalog, which though it was advertised as Rob Rosania’s sale also contained several sections, separately identified though not with his name, that were clearly Rudy’s wines.  Many of the fraudulent or questionable Roumier and Rousseau bottles from the same vintages and appellations as in prior sales were back for yet another outing (three more ’59 Roumier Musigny, for example). When I reached the Ponsot section, with its pictures of 50+-year old bottles of Clos de la Roche with pristine labels and “Vieilles Vignes” designations where they shouldn’t have been, it was even more disturbing. However, what particularly caught my attention was the older Ponsot Clos St. Denis.  My first reaction was surprise, in that I had never seen any Ponsot Clos St. Denis of this age, or indeed any older than 1985. My next reaction was curiosity, as to when Ponsot started producing Clos St. Denis, and a quick check of the website revealed that their agreement to produce this wine, from land belonging to the Mercier family (Domaine des Chézeaux), only started in the early ‘80s. Was it possible, though, that the Ponsot family had had some agreement, years earlier and since terminated–whether with the Merciers or someone else–to buy or make this wine? I asked another knowledgeable friend, who had also never seen any pre-1985 bottles before, and then got in touch with Allen Meadows.  Coincidentally, he told me he had been served this wine at a pre-auction dinner in Los Angeles a day or two before and had also been suspicious about whether such a wine had actually been made by Ponsot.  The three of us then decided we needed to get in touch with Laurent Ponsot, whom all of us knew well.  Laurent was startled to hear that Acker was about to auction wines his family had, he assured us, never made.

We agreed I would call John Kapon to tell him that the wines he was about to auction did not exist, and that he had to pull them from the sale—along with the rest of the Ponsot wines in the auction, as Laurent had by then reviewed the catalog, and believed the other Ponsot wines to be fraudulent as well.  John was clearly not happy about this, though he agreed to do it. He did not, however, want to make any announcement ahead of the sale. In discussing this with Laurent, he decided that he should change the itinerary for his forthcoming trip to the US, and attend the auction, to make sure John carried through and the wines were in fact withdrawn.

The day of the auction, Rudy spent the morning at Sotheby’s, outbidding a few of us for some very old, and very real, Faiveley bottling—which before that auction had not commanded high prices.  I strongly suspect that had his world not begun to unravel that evening, large quantities of counterfeit old Faiveleys would soon have begun appearing on the market alongside the Roumiers, Rousseaus and Ponsots, and at the newly elevated market prices. In any event, that evening, John Kapon did announce during the sale that the Ponsot wines had been withdrawn at the request of the domaine, without further elaboration. I will never forget the chorus of boos that greeted this announcement, apparently from bidders keen to purchase these never-before-seen rarities.

Had it not been for those bottles of Ponsot Clos St. Denis that never existed, Rudy might not be sitting in jail today. Wine fraud is extremely difficult to prove, and often a matter of expert opinion in an arcane field, hardly the stuff a prosecutor likes to take to court ( it was only after Rudy was arrested that the search of his home turned up “smoking gun” evidence that showed he was actively manufacturing fake bottles). What brought him to make these particular bottles? His imprecise knowledge of Burgundian history had come close to tripping him up at least once before, when he offered for sale bottles of ’23 Roumier Bonnes Mares—the domaine was founded in 1924—but he, or someone, dreamed up the un-disprovable story that because the domaine’s plot of Bonnes Mares had come as a dowry from Georges Roumier’s wife in 1924, it was also possible that her dowry included a yet-unbottled cask or more of the prior vintage’s wine as well. Unlikely, but given that the domaine had no records from that era, and the principals were long dead, not disprovable. Indeed, several things have made counterfeiting Burgundies easier than Bordeaux.  Many now-revered producers did not use branded corks until relatively recent decades, generic capsules were often the norm, and labeling practices were seldom uniform or precise. Because a vintage (even one deemed great) was often not sold out on release, bottles might be kept in the cellar at the domaine for years, always without labels, and released whenever a buyer could be found.  If by the time they were sold the label design had changed, the new label might be used, or older, blank labels onto which the vintage date might be stamped rather than printed. Other inconsistencies, depending on particular markets, were also not uncommon. No thought was given to preventing counterfeiting; the producers could barely sell the wines themselves, what incentive would someone else have to counterfeit them?

Also, in the period leading up to production of the fake Ponsots, Rudy apparently had begun to purchase vast quantities of negociant Burgundies from the ‘60s and earlier, much of it from Patriarche, a mediocre negociant with huge stocks of old wines that were selling for, at most, a few hundred dollars a bottle (I am told he similarly bought inexpensive old magnums of Pomerols and Medocs in great quantities). Thus, for example, a bottle of 1959 Patriarche Clos de la Roche, which an expert might well identify by taste as both ’59 and Clos de la Roche, could be rebaptised with a Ponsot label, resold for fifty times the price, and (unlike the bottle of purported ’59 Clos de la Roche that Allen and I had tasted in October 2006, which was clearly not from the ’59 vintage), the forgery would be much harder to detect.

The older Ponsot Clos St. Denis, however, had never existed. After the auction, at John Kapon’s request, Laurent, John, Rudy and I had lunch, John’s idea being that Rudy could explain to Laurent where he had gotten these wines.  At the luncheon, despite Laurent’s polite but insistent questioning, Rudy remained vague and evasive, claiming he needed to check to see where he got these wines (this from someone who remembered virtually every bottle he ever drank or bought!), telling Laurent he would give him the information but putting him off as long as he could, before ultimately (some months later) handing him a fake name and phone numbers. However, before we left, Rudy pulled me aside, and asked me a question that gave the game away: didn’t I remember, he asked, a particular bottle that he had purchased a couple of years earlier, after outbidding Don Stott? It was a ’47 Ponsot Clos St. Denis. Didn’t that show that Ponsot must have been making Clos St. Denis at least as far back as ’47? I confess I smirked a bit as I informed him that in fact I did remember the bottle, and because I was interested I had looked into it; while it was only catalogued as “Ponsot”, in fact the producer of that bottle was “Christine Ponsot,” no relation to Laurent or the Domaine, but rather a label used by a negociant (Emile Chandesais, Christine Ponsot’s husband) with a stock of older Burgundies to sell.

After the story of his attempt to sell the fake Ponsots became the subject of several press reports, Rudy seemed to go underground, and there were rumors he had for a time left the country.  Meanwhile, Laurent Ponsot pursued his quest to discover the source of the fake wines, developing evidence that, he believes, will ultimately show that Rudy did not act alone. Laurent has throughout been tenacious, principled, and, sadly, often alone—for reasons I do not understand, his fellow producers seemed to take the attitude that counterfeiting of their wines was not something they needed to concern themselves with. Some of this may reflect the fact that many producers who have become celebrities of the wine world are uncomfortable in that role, and with the new world of trophy drinking in general, still viewing themselves as farmers whose job is to produce the best wine possible, and to sell it to support their families; anything else they see as a distraction that, given all the pressures on their time, they can ill-afford. Only recently has that mind-set begun to change and the threat to their reputations from fraud begun to be taken more seriously.

Rudy’s wines again resurfaced in the fall of 2009 when Christie’s brought a significant amount of them to market. (According to the initial Complaint filed by the Government in arresting him, Rudy had previously sold a number of these wines to a California collector, identified elsewhere as Andy Gordon, who tried to put them back to Rudy after becoming suspicious, but ultimately agreed to be repaid out of the proceeds of a sale by Rudy of these wines at Christie’s, where Rudy was never identified as the source of the wines.)  However, a number of people, including Don Cornwell and Geoffrey Troy, recognized the wines as being from Rudy, and raised with Christie’s the issue of how they could sell these wines at auction, especially without disclosing the source. I also spoke with several people at Christie’s about this.  It seemed then, as it does now, pure folly to risk tainting their reputation on an insubstantial aspect of their overall business, but Christies’ management decided otherwise, and went on to offer these wines at several sales in the US and abroad.

Because I had assumed that the Christie’s bottles were bottles Rudy or Mr. Gordon had been holding when the music stopped in April 2008, it did not occur to me that Rudy was still in the business of manufacturing and selling rare wines, until someone asked me if I had seen the catalog for the Spectrum London auction scheduled for early February of this year.  One look at the on-line catalog was enough to convince me that these were yet more of the same Rudy bottlings (after a while, they got to have a recognizable look). I discussed this with Geoffrey Troy and Don Cornwell, and Don threw himself into this, eventually producing an amazing compendium of flaws in the purported DRCs on sale at Spectrum, which he then published as a vinous “J’Accuse” on the Wineberserkers bulletin board. (As an aside, the wine world owes Don Cornwell an enormous debt of gratitude for his incredible commitment to bringing this story to light, and for his continuing efforts to root out the many tentacles of Rudy’s fraud.)  Don also collected evidence that the wines were being sold by Rudy through an intermediary, and that he had been using this route to sell wines through Spectrum for quite some time. Much has now been said on this subject, which can be followed at length on Wineberserkers and elsewhere. Unfortunately, Spectrum (which issued a series of wholly implausible denials), its London auction partner Vanquish, and their “experts” who authenticated these bottles, have yet to suffer fully the richly deserved consequences of their own arrogance and stupidity—or in this case, perhaps cupidity is the more appropriate word. Nonetheless, the uproar surrounding that sale galvanized action on the part of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti,  its UK and US agents, and the Domaine Comte de Vogüé, to have numerous questionable wines removed from the sale, finally overcoming the stonewalling that had initially greeted Cornwell’s revelations. Perhaps more importantly, the revelation that Rudy was continuing, with seeming impunity, to manufacture and sell millions of dollars of counterfeit wine in the marketplace, may have played a significant role in the government’s decision to arrest him.

What to make of this sorry history?  Is it just another story about some gullible rich guys with more money than taste getting ripped off by a clever con artist? Partly, perhaps, but also I think you have to be part of the wine culture to understand the strong spirit of generosity among collectors.  Wine, unlike many collectibles, cannot simply be fondled and then put back on the shelf; to be enjoyed, it needs to be opened, and that enjoyment is multiplied by sharing. Of course, there are some who are content to create mausoleums in their basements, where they can show off their treasures but never open any; but those are bottle collectors, not wine lovers. Among true wine aficionados, sharing bottles is a way of life (and if showing off sometimes vies with true generosity as a motive, well, that’s part of human nature too).  What Rudy did, however, was to pervert that generous spirit into nothing more than another con game, and among its after-effects is a climate of suspicion that will last a long time, as each old bottle is held under a microscope and its flaws, real or imagined, debated. Even more unfortunately, thousands of fake bottles have made their way into collections world-wide and they will continue to surface, slowly, for many years to come. On the positive side, one can hope that exposing this fraud will galvanize action by the producers, both to play a more active role in helping to identify fraudulent older bottles, and to employ technologies that already exist to protect the legitimacy of the wines being produced today. If that occurs, then perhaps this long sad tale will not have a completely unhappy ending.

© 2012 Douglas E. Barzelay

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Wine Fraud

A few years ago, after having played some role in exposing the attempted sale of a substantial number of fake Ponsot wines at auction, I recounted that story, with indignation, to a friend of mine who is a senior executive at a consumer products company.  Why, he asked, was I surprised that people were faking expensive bottles of wine? “They’re out there faking our toothpaste.”

Ours is a world awash in fraudulent goods, but when it involves something closer to our hearts than a Rolex watch, we feel more aggrieved.  Old wine, and especially old Burgundy, has been a passion of mine for a long time, and because for many years few people were interested, one could drink great old bottles of Burgundy with a minimum of concern, even during the years when rare old Bordeaux were being routinely faked.  Unfortunately, sometime around the middle of the last decade, as Burgundy prices boomed, a small cottage industry began to produce significant quantities of old-vintage fakes, beginning inevitably with older DRCs (especially large formats) and de Vogüés, then infecting Jayer, Roumier, Rousseau, Ponsot and others. The auction houses that sold wines reacted in varying ways, but while one or two had the knowledge to spot the fakes and the character to refuse them, most turned a blind eye for as long as they could. Eventually, though, the glare of publicity, and several lawsuits, turned most of the auction houses considerably more cautious.

The fake Ponsots catalyzed a glare of attention on the forgeries, and for a time there seemed to be far fewer fraudulent old Burgundies on the market—and focus, in any case, seemed diverted as new markets in Asia went wild over 1982 Lafite and other Bordeaux, and the auction houses rushed to serve this new and burgeoning market. Nonetheless, those manufacturing the fake Burgundies had never been caught, and it appears that, emboldened by the emergence of a new, rich and unsophisticated cadre of collectors, they are back in business at the same old stand.

Too often markets that lack an effective regulatory mechanism—which may be sophisticated consumers or other gatekeepers, just as much as external, or even internal, regulators—become a race to the bottom (for which the mortgage “industry” still serves as a painful example).  In the wine world, the recent Spectrum/Vanquish auction in London (February 8) was the wine auction world’s sorry example of this, as the auction house put on sale a large number of seemingly rare Burgundies with what turned out to be a highly questionable provenance.  After trumpeting their alleged stringent vetting of these wines, they  tried their best (or worst) to ignore the well-documented warnings of outside commentators before granting some credence, albeit both grudging and only partial, to the further warnings of several Burgundy domaines and their representatives. Yet as Don Cornwell has amply documented, the withdrawn lots were only a part of a much larger whole to which adequate (or even cursory) vetting seems not to have been applied. (Full disclosure—I was one of Don’s sources for information in comparing these questionable bottles with wines of known authenticity, though it is Don who deserves full credit for the thorough investigation he performed.)

While I suspect that the reverberations from that auction may continue for some time, it also makes sense to begin asking what can be done, if not to eliminate, at least to minimize, the amount of fraudulent wine that reaches the market.

The question for the auction houses is simple:  do they not have a responsibility, from a business standpoint even if not a legal one, to their customers (buyers), to take reasonable measures to assure the quality and authenticity of what they sell?  Certainly, they all concur in wanting us as buyers to think they do, with their staffs of “specialists” and their vivid catalog descriptions of long hours examining dusty bottles. Yet with few exceptions, this remains more in the realm of puffing than of actuality.  What will change this?  As are others, I am skeptical of the government’s ability to impose such responsibilities other than in the most ham-handed of fashions. On the other hand, self-regulation would require that the leading auction houses abide by uniform standards, which they seem reluctant to do for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, the issue is not going to go away, and the auction houses need to face up to it. While I don’t profess to have a neat set of answers, I would, in the interests of starting a dialogue, proffer a few observations and suggestions:

–wine fraud is never going to be totally eradicated. There’s just too much money in it, and those who think this is just a rich man’s game are dreaming; there’s plenty of it going on at more affordable levels. Nonetheless, the auction houses should provide a relatively safe zone for the trade in mature wines, not a wild-west atmosphere.

–the art market may provide some useful analogies. That market is still largely self-regulated. It is certainly not a perfect market, and fraud is still a serious issue.  At least, however, it is an issue that is taken seriously.  In the auction process provenance is typically carefully scrutinized, and not only do the auction houses and dealers take their vetting processes seriously, but a substantial role is played by outside experts who do not have an economic interest in the sale.  For major artists, these third party experts are effectively gatekeepers, and the absence of a third party imprimatur can be an obvious signal to reasonably sophisticated buyers that there is likely to be a problem.

–while the wine auction business has largely paid lip service to the expertising process (though a couple of houses actually do take it seriously), the truth is the wine departments have had a lot of merchandise to move and a small number of underpaid and undertrained specialists, and have often failed to pay the attention to authentication needed to do the job correctly. At the same time, many of the consumers who have been spending large amounts at auction have had neither the time nor the detailed knowledge to do any serious due diligence–a lot of money was and is being freely spent by people who quite frankly are not sophisticated about what they’re buying. This relative lack of gatekeepers, or the demand for them, was what in my view opened the door for those who saw an opportunity to produce fraudulent bottles, and who really didn’t need to be too fastidious about the quality of the fakes they were producing. 

–what can be done?   If the auction houses truly want to get serious about this issue, then at a minimum, they need to hire a truly independent (and experienced) third party to vet the expensive/questionable bottles.  Because of its widespread use in the art world, the idea of independent expert review will certainly not be a novelty to the large auction houses and if it became the norm there would be a viable business for a few different experts to do this for multiple auction houses and collectors.  For it to work properly, however, there would need to be far greater cooperation from the producers. One of the difficult parts of the exercise in reviewing the Spectrum bottles was identifying reference standard labels, bottles, etc. Building a reliable database of information is going to be key to any such effort.  The Domaines can be a huge help in this, and I think (hope) they would be more willing to do so, if the information were being given to third parties of known reliability.  I would certainly hope, for example, that those campaigning for recognition of Burgundy as a world heritage site would not be short-sighted about the importance of preserving that heritage once its fruits are bottled and move out into the world.

–what is the appropriate standard of “authenticity”?  There was a good deal of discussion on wineberserkers.com (where Don Cornwell first exposed the problems with the Spectrum/Vanquish auction) about whether DRC itself should “authenticate” wines, much of it unfortunately proceeding from the unstated, but incorrect, premise that this is something DRC could readily do if only it were willing to devote the resources to the task.  While a number of Burgundy producers are at work on technologies that in the future may serve to prove whether a bottle is or is not what it purports to be, those experiments belong to this century.  For older bottles, while an expert who examines a bottle should be able to tell if there are signs that it may not be what it purports to be, there are no comparable signs which would allow one to state with certainty that a bottle is “authentic.” Indeed, until relatively recently, few Burgundy producers had to concern themselves with fraudulent bottles (DRC was not even a profitable enterprise until sometime in the 1960s), which meant they were mostly concerned with how they would sell their production, not whether someone would be motivated to counterfeit it.  Also, labeling practices in Burgundy were not always uniform, as wines might not be sold until years after the vintage, when new labels might be printed—although the existence of legitimate variations does not mean that all variations are legitimate.  Other than branding corks, which only a few producers did at that time, no significant steps were taken to deter counterfeiting. But corks can be falsely branded, false labels can be printed (and made to look old), and of course corks, labels, capsules and bottles can all be pulled out of the dumpster and reused.  As just one example, I have tasted a bottle of 1945 Rousseau Chambertin (so it said on the label), with a correct period bottle, capsule, label and even a branded cork—only what was in the bottle was not ’45 and not Chambertin. Of course, the best way to positively authenticate a bottle, without consuming it, is to have a clear record of its provenance.   However, to ask a domaine, or outside expert, to say by examining the exterior of an old bottle of unknown provenance that what is inside is “authentic” is to ask them to do something beyond their capability. For this reason, what some auction houses have established as the operative criterion is not whether the bottles are authentic but whether they are sellable at auction. The key distinction is that one only has to establish that the bottle lacks adequate provenance, or presents issues of authenticity, to exclude it. 

–The vetting process will not be foolproof, and liability issues for the experts need to be considered carefully. Two other problems are time—auction houses and collectors are going to have to adjust to longer lead times–and over-exclusion: i.e., the vetting process is by its nature going to require setting aside as unsellable not just obvious fakes, but also bottles whose provenance is murky, or that have questionable variations, but that may nonetheless be authentic and provide great drinking experiences.

–This problemof potential over-exclusion suggests that there may be a better way to look at this issue. Sotheby’s may currently do the best job of vetting its wine sales, but does anyone else share my view that these sales tend to be rather boring, especially for those whose interests in Burgundy extend beyond recent vintages of DRC and a handful of others?  Once the obvious fakes are excluded, I think there still needs to be a “safe” market for those bottles that are neither of impeccable provenance, nor counterfeit—it just has to be a market in which they find their own level, and are not (as now) marketed and priced as if they had lain in some cold country house cellar since release.  The possible model for achieving this is very different from the one the auction houses currently employ, and one that takes its cue from the securities industry: full disclosure of all material facts that would affect a reasonable buyer’s decision.  Presumably, if everything relevant about provenance, condition and storage, is disclosed, then informed buyers can make their own decisions, and bottles will find different price levels depending on the perceived risk. This approach was used to some extent years ago by Chicago Wine Company, in its “caveat emptor” section—mostly bottles with severe ullage, or potential seepage, etc. but there’s no reason not to extend this to wines that, for example, have traded multiple times, or that seem correct but lack information on where they’ve been. Let those bottles find their own price level, based on honest reporting—the auction house has to say what it knows, after reasonable due diligence, and what it can’t find out (for example if sellers don’t have, or won’t produce, any records of purchase, that would be disclosed). It must be clear, though, that this is not just a variant of willful blindness. What should raise red (if not black) flags, is a complete lack of any information on the provenance of rare and expensive bottles. The silence of Spectrum/Vanquish on this point had to be disturbing to anyone concerned about authenticity—evidently including DRC among others. Real due diligence has to be a cornerstone of this approach, and I would advocate this be overseen by truly independent third parties, as a part of the expert review process outlined above, and not by in-house personnel whose compensation, or indeed continued employment, may be conditioned on their pliability. Nor should the auction houses be able to rely on “captive” third parties, whose retention similarly may depend on telling the auction house what it wants to hear.

–If the auction houses (or some of them) were willing to adopt this approach, then while certain sellers would for obvious reasons flee into the shadows, it could have several positives (beyond simply being the right and honest thing to do).  First, I think it would provide a competitive advantage in terms of dealing with buyers, because buyers would presumably prefer to deal with a source they could trust (indeed, it might help bring to the auction market the large number of collectors who today regard the auction houses as a place to dump their trash, not as a source they would seriously consider buying from). Second, it would obviate the liability issues that are sure to be coming the way of auction houses that persist in dealing with fraudulent goods even when warned; and third, it might obviate the perception of a need to impose liability on all the auction houses through new laws and regulations.

— There will be several challenges for the auction houses in adopting such an approach. The first is the often chaotic nature of the auction process for wine, where large amounts of wine may arrive last minute, and all have to be appropriately examined for identification of the wine, label conditions, capsule conditions, etc.  Slowing down the process while an expert chews over the most desirable bottles is not going to be appealing to the auction houses, but in fact right now some auction houses are doing this, and it doesn’t seem to measurably affect their ability to bring quality consignments to auction. Second, there is a risk of overkill in that small consignments of wines with no known counterfeit issues should not need to be subjected to the same depth of examination as large consignments of Lafite, DRC, etc.  The biggest issue for the auction houses will likely be that of naming sellers, and others in the chain of title. While I would point out that even now, if you’re a big enough customer, the auction houses will quietly tell you who the seller is, there is concededly a big difference between that and publication, and it is one that clearly would hurt their ability to attract consignors. Nor is this just about questionable consignors not wanting to be identified;   I have known plenty of people with great collections who would have balked if they thought that their moment of financial distress would become obvious to the world. However, this may not be as large a problem as it seems. On one side of the equation, some major consignors already understand the utility of attaching their names to their collections, and on the other, the number of bad actors whose names are widely recognized in the collector community is actually fairly small. So something would have to be worked out so that more information about consignors and others in the chain would be available in enough detail for it to be obvious when a bad actor was in the chain, but without clearly identifying individuals who have a reasonable expectation of privacy; nonetheless this seems like something that, once again, could adequately be controlled by a third party gatekeeper.

To summarize, I think that a system can be worked out to prevent most frauds, without legislative intervention—provided a critical mass of auction houses would be willing to do so. If I’m right, then given their current reluctance to step up, what may be needed is a little “gentle” encouragement from us, their customers—by making our preferences known in the way they will best understand, through our patronage of those who will stand up and do the right thing, and refusal to do business with those who won’t.

2010 RED BURGUNDIES–A CONNOISSEUR’S VINTAGE

SUMMARY:

2010 is one of the most interesting, and exciting, vintages that I have tasted out of barrel.  That said, it is in my view a connoisseur’s vintage, or, to use a word that seems to have become (as it was in the Nixon era) a political epithet, an intellectual vintage.  I say this not because these wines will not give great pleasure in the glass—they will—but because the more you know and appreciate the subtle, and not-so-subtle, differences among Burgundy terroirs, the more you will get out of these wines.  The best wines of this vintage, and there are many, achieve what Burgundy so rarely does: they are wines of ripeness, balance and transparency, and the more one either brings an understanding of Burgundy to the tasting (or seeks it through vertical or horizontal tastings), the more interesting and rewarding the experience of these wines will be.

The key to this vintage was the poor weather at the time of flowering, which caused a large amount of millerandage (very small berries with thick skins and few seeds), and also a significant number of aborted berries. The growing season was protracted and unstable; as one producer said, it was rare to get three beautiful days in a row.  However, by the time of the late September harvest, the grapes had been able to reach phenolic ripeness yet retain a significant level of acidity, a highly unusual occurrence. The best are remarkably balanced, with ripe fruit yet penetrating minerality, wines that clearly reflect their terroir differences and have already begun to develop a silky texture. However, the growing conditions also favored the development of botrytis and mildew, and careful triage was necessary at harvest to eliminate affected grapes. In truth, I did see in a number of wines a significant touch of sucrosity in the back palate just before the finish, and whether this is just a stage in the development and integration of these wines, or something that will ultimately mar their balance and purity, remains to be seen. It also must be said that, unlike 2009, this was not a “no-brainer” vintage; rather, in the words of Aubert de Villaine, it required “skill, experience and rapidity of intervention.” As a result, while there are many great wines to choose from, it may be that the portfolios of the negociants, where there are some very great wines but also generally less consistency, are more representative of the vintage as a whole than, say, the portfolios of Domaine Lafarge or Georges Mugneret-Gibourg.

If small berries produce more concentrated wines, they also yield far less juice, and production levels for this vintage are down 30% and more from the prior year. Compounding this problem, there was a severe frost in December 2009, which killed many vines, particularly in the Cote de Nuits vineyards that abut the D974, the main road through Burgundy. This frost mostly affected Village and Bourgogne appellations, and further contributed to the shortage of wine in this vintage. This is particularly unfortunate in that there were some remarkable wines made among these “lesser” appellations in 2010. 

Comparisons with the highly-acclaimed 2009 vintage will be inevitable. Bernard Hervet of Domaine Faiveley noted that while 2009 is a universal vintage, one that will give great pleasure to beginners and sophisticated Burgundy collectors alike, 2010 is more likely to be appreciated by the latter.  Certainly the 2009s have their hedonistic side.  In side-by-side comparisons with the 2009s, the earlier vintage has richer and denser fruit flavors, but the key to real greatness was being able to preserve the acid balance of the wine.  As the notes below indicate, some producers did that very successfully, though elsewhere there are wines that are rich and heavy but lack essential balance.  While it seems fashionable in some critical circles to denigrate the ‘09s a bit (too easy, too rich), the fact remains that there are many superb wines in ’09.  In many of the cellars we visited, one could find instances of individual wines where the ’10 seemed better, and others where the ’09 seemed better. In the end, these are two first-rate vintages, the ‘09s a warm, ripe vintage that one sees, with pleasure, every decade or so in Burgundy (comparisons have been made to ’99 and ’59, among other vintages), while ’10 is unusual, if not sui-generis, and I am not sure that trying to rank them makes sense at this early stage of their development. As to other vintage comparisons, most producers seemed to agree that the 2010s are not at the same level as the 2005s (a vintage that has it all, but that will take many years to evolve), and also that while they bear some similarities to 2008 and 2001 in their terroir transparency, the ‘10s are much more harmonious and well-balanced than either of those earlier vintages, and have a lot more ripe fruit.  In discussions with several dozen winemakers, very few could think of a comparable vintage, and more than one chuckled at the notion that while this was being called a “classic” Burgundy vintage, it was one that was almost without precedent. One grower who did venture an analogy, Michel Lafarge, reached back to 1962, which if it proves true is high praise indeed.

The white 2010s are more irregular; while the best possess the same sense of harmony and balance as the reds, there seem to be fewer successes—mainly because the acidity levels are not always what they should be, and the wines can seem on the fat or even flabby side. Philippe Senard remarked that in his experience, when yields were down considerably for whites, the resulting wines often have had a propensity to top-heaviness. Nonetheless, there are some great successes among the whites, including among the Chablis that we tasted (albeit only a handful, not enough to give a comprehensive picture of the vintage in that region). While the 2010 whites in general seem better than the 2009s, I would approach the vintage with some caution, also keeping in mind also that no significant progress has yet been made on the premature oxidation issue.

Overall, because of the lower quantities and the cult reputation this vintage has already begun to acquire, the 2010s will likely be more difficult than usual to find.  And while cellar door prices are not likely to be up substantially, no doubt the ultimate price to consumers will be affected by the shortages.

Another characteristic of this vintage is that the grapes ripened well in the lesser appellations, and there are a number of delicious Village wines, and even some excellent Bourgognes. These should not be overlooked as they will provide excellent everyday drinking and should be accessible relatively early. In terms of drinkability, the tannins in most wines seem ripe and well resolved, and while the top wines may close up for a few years, I would expect that this vintage will be at least accessible early on–though holding the wines will be well repaid in the development of nuance over time.

 

 RED BURGUNDY

THE DOMAINES

Bruno Clair: Great successes in 2010. Bruno Clair referred to 2010 as “la grande petite annee” and, as one of the few producers whose memory and experience extends back far enough, felt Lafarge’s analogy to 1962 was not necessarily a good one, finding ’10 richer than the earlier vintage. He also said that, in his view, 2009 was like 2002 but much more powerful. For those willing to reach down the appellation ladder, there are some excellent Marsannays here, particularly the Longerois, and a fine Savigny Les Dominodes.  However, the greatest successes are, not surprisingly, at the top levels—an excellent Gevrey Cazetiers, with great cut and transparency, and tannins to keep it, and an even better Clos St. Jacques, more reserved but with a wonderful purity to it, especially on the long complex finish; followed by a great Clos de Bèze, complex and dense, with sweet fruit throughout, and plenty of tannins, but ripe ones.  The best, however, was the Bonnes Mares (from the Terres Blanches sector), an old style, dense wine that keeps its feet, with great tension and a long, high-toned finish.

            2009s tasted included the Savigny Dominodes, very ripe but with good balancing acidity (90); and the Gevrey Cazetiers, extremely ripe and rich but possibly a touch heavy (91). As between the two vintages, I preferred the ’09 Dominodes and the ’10 Cazetiers, but we did not see enough ‘09s to get a good sense for how they compared overall at this domaine.

Rousseau:  We began in medias res with the Mazis, which was quite a way to begin: floral, transparent, and balanced, without the ponderousness I often find in this wine. The Ruchottes was a bit reduced, which amplified the dryness in the tannins, but it seemed complex, and pure on the finish, and it should be quite fine in time. The fireworks, though, began with the Clos St. Jacques, dense, pure and penetrating, with great black cherry fruit and spice; there is a lot of wine here, particularly for a premier cru.  Indeed, for quality it held its own with the Bèze, though the latter was much denser, with the small berry fruit evident and ripe tannins, excellent balance and a long finish. The star, though, was clearly the Chambertin; the nose was more calm and refined than that of the Bèze, there was a lot of power here, and density, but also structure and refinement, and a long transparent finish; if one may anthropomorphize, this is an extremely self-confident wine, as it deserves to be. Bravo!

Trapet:  It was a busy morning at Trapet, and Jean Trapet was pressed into service to conduct our tasting, which proved to be a great treat, as he is a font of knowledge about the history of the region and shared some fascinating stories with us. Fortunately, however, he did not distract us from our mission of tasting the wines, as they were a great success in 2010. While I have in the past sometimes been critical of the level of toasty oak used at the domaine, this year it did not seem obtrusive (with the possible exception of the Gevrey Village). The Gevrey 1er Cru Capita (composed of grapes from Combottes, Ergots and Corbeaux) was particularly delicious, with very fine delineation, and the Chambertin was as usual excellent, with lots of spice, grilled meat, depth, power and energy; the tannins seemed fairly prominent but silky. The surprise, though, was the Latricières —not that it is ever a bad wine, but this one was really singing—great penetrating minerality and spicy red fruit on the nose; balanced, charming and elegant on the palate, and concentrated yet transparent on the finish.

            Among the ‘09s, I liked the Gevrey 1er Cru Capita, with a lovely complex nose, a soft entry and a good minerally mid-palate (90-91), and the Chapelle-Chambertin was very silky, if a bit dry from the wood (91). The Latricières had a great nose, and was very precise, powerful, balanced and structured—a particularly fine Latricières  (93), while the Chambertin was reserved and dignified, a very structured wine with a lovely spicy finish (94). Overall, I had a slight preference for the ‘10s, but the ‘09s are rounding out nicely, particularly the top two.

Ponsot:  2010 was another brilliant success for Laurent Ponsot. Wines that particularly stood out for me included the Chambolle Charmes, which despite a touch of reduction showed concentrated fruit, and “despite” the richness and density also showed great balance and freshness; the Morey 1er Cru Cuvee des Alouettes, reflecting well its terroir; the Griottes, with intense fruit balanced by wonderful fresh acidity, and with refined tannins; an old vines Clos de Vougeot which was extremely expressive on the nose, and quite intense and complex on the palate, yet it kept its balance; and of course the Clos St. Denis TVV, with an intense, deep yet subtle nose, great equilibrium on the palate, black cherry fruit, minerals and spice, it was elegant and even ethereal on the palate, with some very sophisticated tannins. It was a truly great wine, and I even marginally preferred it to the Clos de la Roche, glorious as the latter was, with a broader nose than the Clos St. Denis, complex and harmonious, a wine of texture (silk, to be sure), with a touch of tannin at the end to hold it.  Ponsot is clearly on a roll.

Dujac: Comparisons between Dujac and Ponsot, while inevitable, are interesting less from a quality standpoint (both, at their best, can be outstanding) than because the styles are very different, as are the personalities of the winemakers. There are excellent wines here in 2010, including a very good Charmes-Chambertin (not usually my favorite terroir), an even better Vosne Malconsorts, with excellent spice, density and texture; a slightly reduced but nonetheless very fine Clos St. Denis, which if more open-knit and broader than the Ponsot, was well balanced, silky and extremely long; a first-rate Clos de la Roche, with excellent structure and texture and a lovely transparent finish; and finally, a terrific Bonnes Mares, with a very pure fruit expression, density and balance—another quite self-confident wine. Jacques Seysses admitted a preference for the Clos de la Roche, but on this morning at least, I gave the nod to the Bonnes Mares.

            Among the ‘09s, I found the Vosne Beaumonts a touch heavy (89), while the Charmes was delicious but lacked grand cru weight (91).  From there, the wines just got better and better: the Vosne Malconsorts, with much brighter acidity and better balance than the Beaumonts (92); the Echézeaux, with great balance and depth (93); the Clos St. Denis, with excellent vibrancy and balance, a fair amount of tannin still, but elegant and relatively dense for CSD (94); an even better Clos de la Roche, with great presence and balance, silkiness developing, and good density (95); a powerful Bonnes Mares, with lots of minerality and dense black cherries (94); Chambertin, which was rich, meaty and powerful, well-balanced, but with just a hint of baked fruit that kept the score from being higher (93-94); and at the head of the class, the Romanée-St-Vivant, with remarkable Asian spice, black fruit and minerals on the nose, and real delicacy on the palate, silky, elegant and balanced, no heaviness here, to be sure, and a very persistent finish (96). It will be interesting to see ’09 and ’10 side-by-side as they mature, but today I think I had a slight preference for the ‘09s here.

Clos des Lambrays: After a few years in which this Domaine seemed to have lost its way a bit, the good news is that their 2010s are flat out terrific. Even the Morey Village is a great success, with great freshness, sweet fruit and a silky texture. The Clos des Lambrays, of course, is in a different category, with a perfumed, almost musky component to the nose, and on the palate, great charm and lovely texture, and a minerally finish with excellent tension. We also tasted the ’09 Clos des Lambrays, which was quite dense, richer than the ‘10 but without the balance (89). My clear preference here was for the ’10.

Clos de Tart: After a fascinating tasting of various components (young vines, top, middle and lower slope, 0, 50 and 100% stems), we tasted the final blend, which was dense, spicy, complex and balanced, with well-resolved tannins and a glorious long finish; this is a wine of finesse and harmony that will be a great Clos de Tart. (As an aside, while I am certainly a believer in the centrality of terroir to an understanding and appreciation of Burgundy, we had the benefit of a number of component tastings this year, including also Comte Armand’s Clos des Epeneaux and Christophe Roumier’s Bonnes Mares, all of which benefit greatly from the blending of different sub-climats, and even in this terroir-dominated vintage, one should not lose sight of the complexities of this subject. But that is a discussion for another time.)

Mugnier:  Not surprisingly, several superb wines from the always-modest Freddy Mugnier in 2010. The Village Chambolle was a lovely example, with a nose of cherry and spice, a nuanced and expressive palate, excellent balance, and a charming finish. The Fuées seemed more serious and restrained, with a fair amount of tannin, and the Nuits Clos de la Maréchale (shown after the Musigny, which is understandable on one level but nonetheless jarring) seemed a mélange of Nuits and Chambolle.  The Bonnes Mares, though good, still lacks the depth of great Bonnes Mares. The Amoureuses, however, was in another league, with a nose of ripe red fruit, lavender, and minerals, excellent tension and purity on the palate, and ripe, silky and fine tannins, and the Musigny was in another universe, with a deep nose showing great purity and elegance, a silkily-textured palate, delicate balance, a bit more power perhaps than is usual for this wine, but the quintessence of power without weight; a wine of enormous subtlety.

            Great ‘09s here, as noted last year. The Chambolle Village had riper and deeper fruit than the’10, but retained its balance—two great Village wines that will be interesting to compare as they mature (90). The Chambolle Fuées was full of black fruit and spice, again, richer than the ’10, but perhaps not quite the same balance, though it did keep its feet well (91). The ’09 Nuits Clos de la Maréchale was ripe and beautiful, a bit less rustic than the ’10 (91), while the Bonnes Mares had an extremely expressive nose of black cherry, hay and cassis, with lots of power, minerality and density on the palate, and today it was showing more complexity, richness and concentration than the ’10. The Chambolle Amoureuses was quite intense for Amoureuses, with a lot of tannin but beautifully refined, and notes of cinnamon and mocha that carried through from nose to an almost endless finish (95). The Musigny showed ultra-ripe black cherries on the nose, citrus and an almost tarry note, on the palate it had ripe fruit, a touch of soy, minerals, and was powerful, rich and dense—a relative heavyweight for Mugnier Musigny. Certainly it is an exceptional wine, but the ’10 seemed purer and more refined to me. Here, at a domaine that is among the very best in Burgundy, there are wines that are better in ’10, and others that are better in ’09, which to me only shows the foolhardiness of making definitive pronouncements on the comparative quality of these two vintages.

Roumier: It is always interesting to taste at Roumier and Mugnier on the same day; two of the greatest winemakers in Burgundy, next door to one another, making many of the same wines, in two very different but equally compelling styles, yet both always respectful of the underlying terroir.  As at Mugnier, not every wine is compelling in ’10, but the best will rank among the monuments of the vintage. Here, even the Bourgogne is tasty, and the Chambolle Village is a delicious wine, with bright fruit and a purity that will emerge more fully once the wine is racked. The Clos de la Bussière seemed quite elegant for Morey, and the Chambolle Combottes, while a little reticent (like Mugnier’s Fuées in this regard), nonetheless had a pure spicy long finish that suggests this will be quite fine. The Chambolle Les Cras, though, was a step up, pure, balanced, with lovely sweet red fruit, and a finish that displayed great energy (a word one heard a lot in describing the better ‘10s). The Charmes, while charming (!), for me lacks Grand Cru weight, though Christophe said he liked the stem touch in the finish here. The Ruchottes was several steps up from the Charmes, with gorgeous silky fruit, great balance and, despite its power, it was remarkably elegant for Ruchottes—I very much liked this wine.  The Amoureuses had a brooding black cherry nose, a velvety texture, and a lot of minerality, with a long, pure and elegant finish. The Bonnes Mares, a blend of Terres Blanches and Terres Rouges, was complex, nuanced and powerful, with lots of small berry fruit and minerality, and the balance of this vintage; this will be a really fine Bonnes Mares. The Musigny, as always in heartbreakingly small quantity (why, one wonders, can’t the wine gods intercede and give de Vogüé’s Musigny to Christophe to make, as his grandfather did during de Vogüé’s golden era?), was simply amazing, with a sensational nose of small red berries, minerals, lavender, citrus and spice; on the palate, this wine is a lesson in purity, balance and elegance, with the finest possible tannins and an almost endless finish. Breathtaking.

As at Mugnier, we tasted a broad range of ‘09s. The Chambolle Village had creamy dense Chambolle fruit, a velvety sense that began even on the nose, and a long spicy finish (91), while the Morey Clos de la Bussière was quite spicy and powerful, but still balanced, and a creamy finish (90), and the Chambolle Combottes was quite well balanced, with no sense of heaviness and a strong spicy finish (90).  The Chambolle Les Cras had a wonderful perfumed nose, and was very pure and minerally, with excellent density (92). The Chambolle Amoureuses was still a bit locked down, but had exceptional balance and harmony, with spicy black fruit, minerals, a floral touch and citrus and mocha notes on the finish (94). The Bonnes Mares was powerful, dense and complex, with a lot of acidity to balance the fruit, and a long, glorious finish (95). Christophe preferred the Amoureuses, for its floral qualities, while Freddy Mugnier, who was at the tasting with us, preferred the Bonnes Mares (as did I). As at Mugnier, these ‘09s are undeniably great wines, and the only proper answer to the question of “which is better, ’10 or ’09?” is “why not have both?”

Château de la Tour:  A very nice Gevrey Chambertin V.V., still a bit reduced, but underneath there was a lot of structure, and a long sweet fruit finish–a nice Village wine. The Clos de Vougeot was also very good, but of course the star was the Clos de Vougeot V.V. (from vines now 100 years old), with a deep, almost purple color, this is a wine that is dense, layered and intense yet has a silky texture, and excellent balancing acidity.

Hudelot-Noellat:  Though Madame still putters around the office, responsibility for this estate has now fully devolved upon the 23-year old Charles van Canneyt, and despite his relative youth, he is off to an extremely promising start. While the Village-level wines showed a bit too much reduction to get a clear view of their ultimate quality (reduction being quite common, for whatever reason, in the wines of this vintage at this stage), the premiers and grands crus were generally more accessible and several of them were particularly outstanding. I once again was surprised by the quality of the Vougeot Les Petits Vougeots (one more year, and I’m going to have to stop being surprised), which in the past has been rather rustic, but here had a silky texture and an interesting cherry and mineral finish. The Nuits Meurgers was also excellent, if slightly rustic, while the Vosnes were particularly outstanding, the Beaumonts beautifully balanced, pure, delicate and silky, the Suchots, with a finish that seemed even richer and creamier than the Beaumonts, and the Malconsorts, which was in another world: dense sweet fruit, great Vosne spice, silky, intense, pure and extremely long. It even showed up the Clos Vougeot, which was very nice but not necessarily better than the Vosne premiers. The Romanée St. Vivant, despite some reduction, still showed huge spice on the nose, anise and clove, great balance and density, and a lovely silkiness at the finish, with the tannins well resolved. The Richebourg was at least as good, and although the nose was restrained, there was a gorgeous silkiness here too, with delicacy, purity and balance and an exceptionally long finish—an elegant Richebourg.

The ‘09s were also showing extremely well. The Chambolle Village was juicy and rich, and an initial hardness gave way eventually to a silky texture and a charming finish; this had a lot of finesse for a Village wine (90+). The Nuits Meurgers had a pure, minerally earthy Nuits nose, surprising elegance on the mid-palate and a penetrating spicy pure finish (92-93), while the Vosne Suchots had great presence and density, a sweet, slightly gamey mid-palate, and a long charming finish; indeed this wine was almost too charming, if that’s possible, but it kept just short of going over the top (92-93). The Clos Vougeot, while very dense and powerful, was not expansive on the mid-palate; perhaps it is slightly shut down, but today it was not as impressive as its stable-mates (90). The Romanée-St-Vivant, however, had beautiful weight and density, great charm, silky refined tannins, and a lovely primary fruit finish that gave way to deep spice (94).  The Richebourg had hints of game, violets and lavender, and a lot of tension, plus power (95). Overall, a highly impressive range of ‘09s.

DRC: Bernard Noblet thought hard about what vintages might be analogous to ’10, before finally saying that it had some affinity with 2001, which he described as complex to understand for most consumers (unlike 2009), and also perhaps with 1991. Allen Meadows added that there was greater phenolic ripeness in 2010 than 2001, as well as lower yields. In any case, the ‘10s here are, not surprisingly, hugely successful. The Corton certainly had the hallmarks of this terroir, though I found it perhaps a touch light in the mid-palate. The Echézeaux was not dense but elegant and very well-balanced, while the Grands Echézeaux was, as usual, a big step up, powerful, mineral-driven yet beautifully balanced, with polished tannins.  The Romanée-St-Vivant, which Bernard thought a little tired from its recent racking, nonetheless displayed a great sense of equilibrium, with typical spice and lovely sweet fruit; overall, it is a wine that still seems coiled and not ready to show everything just yet. The Richebourg also showed a lot of reduction right now, but there was a sense of harmony and power nonetheless–a brilliant and powerful wine not yet emerged from its chrysalis.  La Tâche was finely defined on the nose, with the spiciness still slightly suppressed but excellent balance and transparency, and a super-long finish with some highly polished tannins. Romanée-Conti showed much more density and intensity of fruit on both nose and palate, with perfect balance and its typical gracefulness on the finish; a very concentrated wine with a finish that seemed almost endless, it is a wine of great subtlety and finesse.

We only tasted one ’09 here, the Echézeaux, a dense spicy wine that exuded confidence, with sweet black fruit, good minerality and tension, and lovely structure (93). I found it more compelling than the ’10, but it is only one wine and one day. (As an aside, while usually the person conducting a blind tasting gets to be omniscient while making everyone else look foolish, for once the tables were turned:  Bernard had intended to show us the ’09 followed by the ’99, but mixed the two up so that the ’99 went first, and drew puzzled stares and much head-scratching when he announced that the 12-year old wine we had just tasted (as had he, though to his credit he seemed perplexed as well) was the ’09.)

Georges Mugneret-Gibourg:  One day, perhaps, this Domaine will command prices equivalent to the quality of the wines, but for now, the wines, though no longer a secret, still represent a bargain relative to the quiet brilliance of the winemaking. In 2010, the Vosne-Romanée was a standout among the Village wines tasted on this trip, with dense fruit and spice on the nose, it was soft and approachable, yet pure, on the palate, and had a charming finish. The Nuits Chaignots had bright small-berry fruit, and was dense and earthy, with a fair amount of tannins still, though the finish was long and pure. The Chambolle Feusselottes had classic Chambolle fruit, but also excellent presence, while the Gevrey 1er Cru (the “Ruchottes Junior”, so-called informally because it is young-vine fruit from the Ruchottes vineyard) was light but charming. The Echézeaux, while still quite primary, had real presence and purity, and was dense, complex and long. The Ruchottes was even better, with a gorgeous nose of black cherry and grilled meat, as well as minerals, a wine with a wonderful silky texture and a very long finish. While in most vintages I put the Clos de Vougeot ahead of the Ruchottes here, it was a close race today, with the Clos de Vougeot being denser than the Ruchottes, and while the Clos de Vougeot was also quite pure, I found the Ruchottes a bit brighter, though this takes nothing away from the quality of the Clos Vougeot.

The ‘09s here were also brilliant, beginning with the delicious Bourgogne, which had dense black cherry fruit, and while it was a touch heavy it had a rich aftertaste (89) (according to Allen Meadows, these vineyards were considered Vosne Village prior to the establishment of the AOC). The Vosne Village was also quite rich, and also a touch heavy, with a long fruit finish (89). (I did think the ’10 of this was better.) The Nuits Vignerondes was earthy, dense and ripe, showing its Nuits origins, with fresh acidity at the end (91), while the Nuits Chaignots was very spicy, and perhaps a bit lighter-bodied than the preceding wine (90).  The Chambolle Feusselottes was especially fine, with sweet red and black fruit, great balance and purity, a minerally finish and excellent tension (93). Here I preferred the ’09 to its ’10 counterpart. The Gevrey 1er Cru was a nice drink but a little slight (90), but the Ruchottes was powerful yet still graceful (93-94). The Echézeaux had a confident nose of black fruit and delicate spice, and was dense but still transparent (93), and the Clos de Vougeot had a glorious nose, with strong mocha notes along with black fruit, spice and lavender, and was dense but with lots of balancing acidity—a long distance runner with polished tannins and a long spicy minerally finish (94-95).

Liger-Belair: Typically excellent wines here in ’10, though I found a little bit of inconsistency. The Village wines had recently been racked, and perhaps suffered a bit from it (I have somewhat better notes for the Village wines from this past summer, though my notes for most of the wines are consistent), however, the Vosne Clos du Château was more approachable than the Colombières or the Vosne Village, with very good balance, spice and power.  The Vosne Petits Monts, while not racked and showing some reduction, nonetheless had a spicy transparent finish, small berry fruit, great transparency and length. The Vosne Brulées, with a touch (19%) of whole cluster, was even deeper and more interesting, with great presence to it (though unfortunately it is available, if at all, only through the occasional charity auction). The Nuits Cras has never been a favorite of mine here (though Louis-Michel is at pains to point out it is Nuits from the Vosne side, with very old vines), and I found it overweight and possibly a bit too extracted for my taste. However, with the Vosne Reignots we were once again back on solid ground, with deep spice and sweet fruit on the nose, lots of density and complexity on the palate, and a spicy finish (some of it from Vosne and some from the new oak), yet the lift of the acidity gives it great balance–a wine of real elegance,  (We did not see the Suchots in November, but it was showing extremely well in July.) The Echézeaux was also marvelous, a wine that spreads its wings in the glass and keeps going, with more presence, and indeed charm, than the Vosne 1er Crus. La Romanée, despite some reduction on the nose, showed itself to be a pure, almost delicate, La Romanée, a very elegant wine, with very ripe tannins and a hint of game on the long finish.

The ‘09s also showed a little bit of inconsistency, though the best are quite superb here. The Vosne Colombière was showing a lot of spice, and while it had rich fruit, it seemed less earthbound than usual (90). The Vosne Clos du Château was even better, quite open at the stage, with red fruit, perfume and some lavender on the nose, and while it was sweet and open it also had good acidity and minerality (92). The Nuits Cras had a bitter edge on the nose, and though there was sweet fruit, the wine seemed a bit heavy and rustic (88). The Vosne Reignots was superb, with dense ripe black fruit on the nose, and excellent balance, spice, minerality and density on the palate; this is a very rich wine but keeps its balance, and the tannins are present but polished (93). The Echézeaux had good pure fruit and a balanced, spicy finish, a very good wine but without the presence of the Reignots (90+). La Romanée had a restrained, spicy nose, hinting at great depth; it was an elegant wine, with coiled power, just beginning its evolution (95).

Grivot:  I am increasingly impressed with the results at this Domaine, where the ever-modest Etienne Grivot has quietly but effectively ratcheted up the quality level. This is particularly good news given the range of Vosne premiers crus that the Domaine owns, in addition to their signature Richebourg.  The Nuits Charmois (a Village lieu-dit) had a lovely bright sweet fruit nose and a lot to it for a Nuits Village, while the Village Vosne-Romanée, despite some reduction, seemed to have balance and purity. The Nuits Roncières was also quite good, though it is an earthy rather than an elegant wine. The Vosne Brulées was a bit too reduced to fully evaluate, but the Vosne Beaumonts, while also showing some reduction, was a brilliant wine: a calm, spicy, elegant nose; with great balance and transparency on the palate, a touch of wood but not obtrusively so, and a long lovely transparent finish. Etienne said it represented what he was trying to make: wines of elegance, power, sensuality, energy and luminosity. The Vosne Suchots, though very good, perhaps suffered slightly from being served after the Beaumonts; while the Reignots, though showing considerable reduction, impressed with its density, power and balance.  The Clos Vougeot, a mid-to-heavyweight wine, seemed dense and tarry; its future was a bit opaque at the moment.  The Echézeaux, however, had lovely line and balance, with real grand cru weight and good purity on the finish, while the Richebourg had a sensual nose, and had power without weight—beautifully balanced, pure and long, with ripe tannins.

Regrettably, we only had time to taste three ‘09s here. The Vosne Village had beautiful pure black cherries and spice on the nose, a touch of cream, and charm, only the slightly short finish betraying its plebian origins (90). The Nuits Boudots was spicy and earthy, with great presence and excellent acidity (92), while the Vosne Beaumonts had deep spice on the nose, and was packed with rich fruit but completely balanced, with a significant level of tannins—great Beaumonts (94-95).

Anne Gros:  As readers of past reports will know, I have been critical of Anne Gros in recent years, as I think she is a very talented winemaker who seemed to take her eye off the ball, and even her ‘09s did not seem to reach the full potential offered by the vintage. The good news, however, is that Anne is very much back on form in 2010. If the Bourgogne and Chambolle Combe d’Orveaux still seemed to suffer from too much new oak, the Vosne Barreaux seemed to be eating it well, and was a wine of great spice and black cherries, with excellent acidity to give it lift. The Echézeaux was well balanced, with pure sweet fruit; though dense, it felt a bit more ponderous than the Vosne. The Clos de Vougeot, however, had good lift from the acidity to match the density, and a long brambly blackberry finish. The Richebourg, despite some reduction, was concentrated and complex—an elegant Riche with great balance.

The ‘09s seemed much as I remembered—good but not great wines. The Vosne Barreaux was a little curious, with a ripe spiced pear nose, and cloves, plus sweet cherry fruit (86), the Echézeaux had strong wood tones on the nose, some nice acidity and lift, and seemed charming if not very deep (89), while the Clos de Vougeot had prominent wood notes, and despite good depth and penetration seemed ponderous, with some sharp tannins at the end (89). The Richebourg had more fruit than oak on the nose, and some elegance, but overall seemed a bit light for Richebourg, especially given the vintage (90?).

Méo:  I confess to some puzzlement here. There are certainly some great wines here, but there seems in recent years to have been, overall, a greater inconsistency than in the past, which I am at a loss to explain. Possibly it is because we are being shown an increasingly higher percentage of the negociant portfolio (and some of the key domaine wines, most notably the Cros Parantoux, were unaccountably missing from the tasting); certainly I find the negociant wines less compelling than those of the domaine overall, but whether this is as a result of having somewhat less gifted terroirs in that portfolio, or of the wood treatment, or of simply not having the same level of control (though the domaine does all the vineyard work for at least some of these wines), I just don’t know. In any event, while I thought the negociant wines we tasted had good fruit expression and density, I missed the purity I had seen elsewhere, though I did like the Nuits Perrières the best among this side of the portfolio.  Among the Domaine wines, the Vosne Chaumes, Echézeaux and Clos de Vougeot seemed good but at the moment the wood is a bit too prominent, while the Corton seemed more expansive, with fat rich cherry fruit, excellent balance, and a nice texture developing. The Vosne Brulées, always one of my favorite wines here, had excellent tension and balance, though it seemed, at least today, to have a bit of blunt tannin at the end. The Richebourg was quite dense, rich and spicy on the nose, but the wine seemed to require a lot of work to get at its underlying depth, before coming up nicely on the finish. Perhaps these wines are simply going through a phase right now; certainly that is always a danger, and given Méo’s track record, I would not want to bet against him. Still, having had so many great wines here in the past, I confess to longing for more.

We only tasted one ’09, an excellent Vosne Chaumes, with an effusive nose of rich ripe fruit and Vosne spice and excellent acid balance on the palate, and with the tannins evident but dominated by the ripe fruit on the long, spicy finish (91). Jean-Nicolas had a lot to say about the two vintages: in his view, the ‘09s have structure and need time but will age well; he views criticism of the wines as too ripe or easy as misplaced. He does see the ‘09s as more voluptuous than the ‘10s, and finds the ‘10s difficult to compare to any other vintage, though he said it might be seen as a mix of ’05 and ’08. He said he regards ’05 as potentially the greatest vintage of the last 20+ years, though the wines are still austere and closed.

Comte Senard:  Philippe Senard embodies joie de vivre, and it is always a pleasure to pass several hours in his company. He has now turned the Domaine’s winemaking over to his daughter Lorraine, who is definitely gaining not just in experience but in confidence. This year, several of the wines were not easy to evaluate, with many of the noses seeming suppressed, and relative to many other wines tasted on this trip, the future of some of these wines seemed uncertain. However, there were several standouts, including a very good Corton Clos des Meix, with touches of cinnamon and cardamom; Corton Bressandes, which stood out for its sense of balance between fruit and minerality, as well as its charm; and Corton Clos du Roi, which despite some heavy reduction, showed great balance, transparency and elegance.

We also tasted the two top crus in‘09: Corton Bressandes, which had a lot of lush fruit and spice, and high-toned acidity; while it was a powerful and dense wine compared to the ’10, it seemed a little short, though Philippe said it was suffering a bit from recent bottling and not fully integrated right now (NR); and Corton Clos du Roi, which had a nose of iron filings and meat, plus open black fruit, and on the palate it was rich without being heavy, with excellent acid balance and real grip and harmony (93).

Comte Armand (Domaine des Epeneaux):  Both the Auxey-Duresses 1er Cru and Village Volnay were quite good, as was the Volnay Fremiets, with a sweet red fruit nose, excellent delineation, and a very nice cherry finish. The Pommard Clos des Epeneaux, which we tasted first as four different components, was absolutely beautiful, with a nose of black fruit, spice and a touch of earth, while on the palate it was unusually elegant for a young Pommard (Pommard seems to have done quite well in this vintage), with a long, pure, spicy finish. The ’09 Clos des Epeneaux had a lovely nose, with spicy, transparent, ripe fruit; it was dense and intense but kept its feet, and had strong but ripe tannins. Nonetheless, it seemed heavier and more earthbound than the ’10 (92-93).

Michel Gaunoux:  The Domaine does not offer barrel samples, so we did not taste the ‘10s. However, we were able to taste the ‘09s in bottle, and were among the very first to do so. The nose of the Bourgogne Rouge seemed reticent, but there was lovely bright fruit on the palate; a straightforward wine (87). The nose on the Pommard Grands Epenots was also a bit unforthcoming, though one sensed the red fruit underneath; on the palate though, there was lovely bright red fruit, an excellent balancing acidity, a touch of sucrosity, and a lovely spicy complex finish, with great minerality (93). The Pommard Rugiens had deeper-pitched fruit than the Epenots, with bright acidity, great balance, and a dense, earthy, rich spicy fruity finish (94). The Corton Renardes was even better, with ripe red fruit and a touch of bacon on the nose, grand cru weight and depth on the palate, and a great high-toned finish of sweet red fruit and minerals, pure and in excellent tension (95).

De Montille:  Some excellent wines here, though not uniformly successful. I quite liked the Beaune Grèves, with its light red fruit and earthy notes, and touch of stem tannins (1/3 whole cluster), the Volnay Champans, with ripe black cherry fruit on the nose, and real delicacy on the palate; and especially the Volnay Taillepieds, elegant, minerally and restrained, with a creamy texture developing (100% whole cluster). I was less persuaded by the Pommards, and the Corton Clos du Roi seemed top-heavy. The Clos de Vougeot however was very good, with delicate perfume and spice, very well balanced and delivering power without weight, though there were some strong dry tannins at the end (100% whole cluster) that will need time to resolve.  The regular cuvee of Vosne Malconsorts was quite good, but the Cuvée Christine was even better: a floral nose, with Asian spice and small berries; great lift on the palate from the acidity, and intensely long on the mineral/fruit finish, with lots of tannin but the finish almost endless.

Marquis D’Angerville:  Great wines from Guillaume d’Angerville. This Domaine has been producing top-flight Volnays for many years, but in recent years they seem even more polished and precise, and in ’10 the wines are pure, terroir-specific, restrained and elegant. The Village Volnay showed the way with excellent balance and transparency, and the Volnay Clos des Angles was concentrated yet had real delicacy and persistence.  The Volnay Frémiets had a nose that jumped out of the glass, but seemed more in need of a racking than some of the other wines. Volnay Caillerets had black cherries, stones, hints of cinnamon and clove on the nose, and overall was stony and balanced, though perhaps it lacked a little seductiveness. Volnay Taillepieds was dense, pure and minerally, with sweet fruit on the palate and excellent texture, and a high-toned finish; it was, in Guillaume d’Angerville’s words, “a serious wine.” The Volnay Champans was denser, with a sense of small berry, cassis-like fruit on the nose, balanced and pure but powerful, with great density and weight on the finish. Guillaume said that the Champans is to him the archetype of Volnay, but I do have to say that this year at least, I preferred the stylishness of the Taillepieds. Best, though, was the Volnay Clos des Ducs, with a brilliant, layered and complex nose, and though it had power on the palate it very much kept its feet, and if it had a bit more tannin on the finish than the others, it was ripe tannin, and the finish itself was quite long and elegant.

Lafarge:  This was one of my favorite tastings this year, as the wines were hugely successful from the bottom to the top of the range, while the terroir differences quite clearly stood out. Michel Lafarge remarked that while in 2009 the flavors were closer together from wine to wine, in 2010 one can see the differences in terroir very clearly.  The Bourgogne Rouge was quite attractive, with lovely red fruit and spice, and texturally a hint of silk to it, and the Village Volnay was also excellent, with a surprising density and richness for Village wine, and a lovely pure finish. The Volnay Vendages Selectionnées was even better, soft, silky and delicate, elegant even, with some tannins and a bright pure finish. (Michel Lafarge said this comes from old vines bordering the premiers crus.)  The Beaune Aigrots had deep spice and earthiness, and spicy, sweet cherry notes, though the tannins were a touch dry; I preferred the Beaune Grèves, with an earthier nose than the Aigrots, and finer tannins on a spicy, minerally, citric finish—a really great example of Grèves (followed a few days later by a brilliant bottle of the ’66 Grèves from Lafarge, which shows what this terroir can do at its best). The Volnay Mitans, never my favorite Volnay, was good (less lumpy than the de Montille, for example), but the Clos du Château des Ducs seemed much more interesting, a distinctly charming and seductive wine, soft and a little forward, though not without very nice minerality in the mid-palate and on the finish. Volnay Caillerets was a star, with a nose that paired pure ripe red and black fruit with an austere minerality, great purity on the mid-palate, with cherries, spice and even a hint of violets, and a long, transparent, highly cut finish.  Somehow, though, the Volnay Clos des Chênes managed to be even better, with a nose of flowers, cherries and hints of strawberries, plus minerals and mocha; on the palate, it was developing a silky texture already, and was balanced and transparent, while on the finish, the tannins were evident but ripe, and the finish as a whole was long, minerally, pure and subtly elegant.

We then tasted several ‘09s. Michel Lafarge said this was the best vintage of the decade after 2005 (though he did not clarify whether he considered the decade to end with ’09 or ’10), though he sees the ‘09s beginning to close up a bit. The Volnay Vendages Selectionnées had pure sweet fruit on the nose, with spice and a touch of creaminess; on the palate it had red fruit, a silky texture, and a touch of dry tannins leading to a spicy sweet finish (90). The Beaune Aigrots was more minerally and earthy on the palate, with good balance, and a strong amount of tannin, albeit ripe (90). The Volnay Caillerets had a beautiful transparent nose, great minerality, an elegant wine with ripe fruit and a very pure finish (93-94).  The Volnay Clos des Chênes had a nose of very ripe fruit and a contrasting deep minerality; it was a highly structured wine, with great balance and purity, developing a silky texture, and very refined tannins on an aristocratic and refined finish (94-95).

 

 

THE NEGOCIANTS

Drouhin:  Some brilliant wines here, particularly at the upper levels. The Village Gevrey was quite nice, with lots of sweet fruit, a meaty element, and good transparency, and the Chambolle 1er Cru, which is almost always a great value, was transparent, long and lovely. The Vosne Petits Monts was, as usual, at another level, with incredible rich primary fruit, spice, and great presence and power, but still the acidity to balance it out beautifully, and today it outshone the Clos de Vougeot, though the latter is certainly a very good wine. The Grands Echézeaux was particularly fine (other than DRC, it is hard to think of a Grands Echézeaux that is equal to or better than this, though it is a bit of a sleeper in the Drouhin portfolio), with a nose of black cherry, spice, and a creamy note; on the palate, it is an extremely elegant wine, with great balance, medium body, and some strong but quite ripe tannins on the spicy, incredibly long finish.  The Griotte-Chambertin was also excellent, with deep black cherry notes and meat, a fairly powerful yet transparent wine with ripe tannins, and great presence and purity on the long finish. Chambolle Amoureuses did not suffer from being shown after these grands crus; the nose was deep, with small-berry fruit (currants?) and minerals, adding spice and citrus notes on the palate; plenty of tannin but ripe, with great purity and presence, and sweet fruit and deep spice on, again, an almost endless finish. Good as this was, the Bonnes Mares was even better, with a classic high-toned Bonnes Mares nose, and in contrast, more soft red fruit on the palate, yet great intensity and purity under, with a velvety texture, and a very long finish with some dry but resolved tannins present. The Musigny was nothing short of brilliant, with an intense, sweet, small-berry nose, penetrating minerality, and the characteristic citrus top note—pure yet rich; on the palate, a soft entry, lots of fruit, then minerality in suspension, still restrained over all; and on the finish, deep spice, power without weight, a fair amount of polished tannin, and an intensity that carries on and on.

Faiveley: As with any range of this breadth, there is going to be variation, but there are a lot of terrific wines here, and a handful that are truly standouts even in a vintage that produced so many great wines. Among the premiers crus, I quite liked the Volnay Frémiets, with an amazing silkiness and harmony, the Nuits Damodes, which reflected its terroir quite well, a bit rustic perhaps but to be expected, the Nuits Porrets St. Georges, more stony and yet silky, the Chambolle Fuées, quite integrated and with a lovely raspberry finish, and the Gevrey Cazetiers, surely a crowd-pleaser with its lovely red and black fruit notes, meatiness, and soft tannins. The star among the premiers crus, though, was an utterly brilliant Nuits Les St. Georges, with an amazing silkiness (it even smelled of silk, if that’s possible), remarkably elegant for Nuits, with a great balance of red fruit and acidity that carries through the finish. Among the grands crus, standouts included the Latricières, complex, reserved, with a characteristic cool minerally nose, a wine that is less evolved than most but is quite serious and will be excellent. Corton Clos des Cortons was typically intense, rich and fruity–and delicious–while the Clos de Bèze had a complex nose, ripe fruit balanced with a spicy component, again rich on the palate, and a developing silkiness, and the Musigny was an extremely classy wine, with serious if highly polished tannins to keep it, an incredibly long finish, and a great deal of elegance. However, the show was stolen by a special cuvée of the Clos de Bèze, called “Les Ouvrées Rodin.” This comes from parts of the vineyard that Bernard Hervet feels consistently produce a superior cuvée, and he is certainly on to something here. The wine is much more minerally on the nose than the regular cuvée, smoky, and very complex as it opens; on the palate, there is an amazing balance, silkiness, and great delicacy, with a subtle spicy element, followed by a long finish; overall, this is a wine of brilliance, grace and harmony, an extremely sophisticated Bèze that will be well worth the trouble to seek it out. (We did not retaste the ‘09s here; however, an ’09 Nuits Les Damodes, tasted at dinner, had great fruit and structure, as well as clarity and precision (91-92). It was only one wine, but confirmed the positive impression I had last year of the Faiveley ‘09s).

Bouchard: As with the other negociant firms, mixed results but some very fine wines in the portfolio.  Among the “smaller” wines, I quite liked the Monthéie Clos Les Champs Fuillot (located next to Clos des Chênes, interestingly). It had bright fruit, good tension, and a good bit more interest than one usually finds in Monthélie. The Beaune Grèves Enfant Jesus was particularly fine (there were some especially good wines this year from Beaune Grèves, for whatever reason), with a lovely silky texture and a sense that this could develop real elegance. The Volnay Caillerets Cuvée Carnot was a touch light, perhaps, but drinking well, while the Pommard Rugiens, despite a rustic touch, was transparent and had a very good minerally finish. Le Corton was relatively open and charming, and should be a crowd-pleaser. The Gevrey Cazetiers was particularly fine, showing real Gevrey character, with excellent balance and a long minerally finish.  Echézeaux was very nice, despite carrying a fair amount of wood (though in general the wood has been considerably dialed back here, which has helped the quality of the wines considerably), while the Bonnes Mares was outstanding: a restrained, typical Bonnes Mares nose, rich ripe fruit on the palate, good balancing acidity, grand cru weight, power and a long precise minerally finish, and refined tannins.

Jadot:  A good range of wines from Jadot, though curiously I was more impressed overall by the premiers crus than by the grands crus. The Beaune Clos des Ursules was excellent, really showing its terroir, with earth, cherries, spice and minerals, and tannin to keep it.  The Pommard Rugiens was also good, as was the Nuits Boudots, a nicely balanced wine, again reflecting its terroir well, and with a long finish.  The Gevrey Clos St. Jacques was, as usual, a great success, with excellent presence, balance, density and length.  Among the grands crus, I liked the Latricières and Mazis but neither seemed completely put together at this stage.  Bonnes Mares, while not without its virtues, was surprisingly soft, and in my view could have used more precision, while the Musigny was soft and charming, with a lovely texture, a very good wine to be sure, though not in a league with the very best Musignys we saw. The Clos de Bèze, though also exhibiting a touch of softness, had good red fruit, some power, smoked meats, and the tannins were fairly resolved on a spicy, minerally, sour cherry finish that was quite persistent.

Olivier Bernstein:  Our first visit here. Certainly they talk the talk, about seeking purity and terroir expression, and about the technical means they use to try to achieve it. The results, however, are wines of deep color and high extraction that, quite frankly, resemble each other entirely too much, and were difficult to tell apart. Well-made, certainly, but not at all in a style that I esteem.

 

 

WHITE BURGUNDY

This year illness as well as some scheduling conflicts kept me from seeing several producers I normally would visit, and so I did not get as full a view of the vintage in whites as I would have liked.  However, I did taste enough to suggest to me that the whites are much more irregular than the reds, and in part that may be, as I quoted Philippe Senard earlier, an effect of the small crop, which resulted in many wines being too heavy. Another factor, which I discussed with Bernard Hervet, is that whereas one could with little trouble rattle of the names of more than a score of red wine domaines that are committed to excellence and willing to take risks to make great, rather than merely good, wine, one is hard-pressed to name more than a small handful of white wine domaines where that same spirit and determination prevails. Unfortunately, too many are content to produce a good quality commercially acceptable wine, and leave it at that.  Sadly, even among those who do strive for the best, all but two have had serious and persistent problems with premature oxidation (there is nothing, I regret to say, new to report on that depressing subject).  

All this said, there are some great successes among the whites in 2010, but careful selection is going to be critical.

Leflaive:  A very nice range here, with the individual terroirs very much on display. Even the Bourgogne was lovely, with white flowers, minerals and spice, and the Village Puligny had good weight and balance. The Puligny Clavoillon had more to it than usual, though a touch of acid sticking out at the end. The Puligny Folatières was a big step up, with excellent density, spice, white flowers and peaches; it was elegant and long, while the Combettes, tasted next, had perhaps even more tension to it.  The Pucelles was the best of these, with hints of citrus cream on the nose, and a long, lean, racy finish.  The Bienvenues-Bâtard was a charming middle-weight wine, balanced and elegant, with good acidity, but the Bâtard had a good deal more tension to it, with notes limewood, spice and sweet fruit, as well as excellent power and structure—I quite liked this.  The Chevalier, however, had still other dimensions: perfect harmony on the nose, with wet stones, white flowers, and great elegance; on the palate, it was soft and spicy, balanced, with acidity underneath, and a very long, focused, spicy finish.

Roulot:  Curiously, several of the wines here had not finished their malolactic fermentation and so were not shown; while malos were quite protracted in general in this vintage, this was the only cellar we visited where a significant number of wines had not finished malo. Still, those we saw were quite good, including a charming and delicious, if slightly simple, Meursault Vireuils; a spicy, rich Meursault Luchets that showed excellent terroir; a nicely balanced Meursault Tillets, and a reserved and still gassy Meursault Tessons Clos de Mon Plaisir that nonetheless had excellent structure and a very fine finish. The Meursault Charmes, the only premier cru that was showable, was rich and creamy but with a lovely minerally edge, a nice limestone finish, and good structure.  Based on the wines shown, I would expect the range to be quite fine this year, as it was in ’09. Indeed, we retasted a few ‘09s, which showed quite well: the Meursault Tillets, with a pure minerality to the nose, good weight, and a pear spice finish (91), and the Meursault Perrières, with a beautifully cut, precise nose showing white flowers and minerals as well as cinnamon and mocha notes, then sweet fruit on the palate, spicy, dense and complex with a very precise finish (95). Roulot is clearly one of the great success stories in ’09, which is not a particularly outstanding white wine vintage. 

Latour-Giraud:   Jean-Pierre Latour loves his ‘10s, which he considers very complete, and with reason. While the Meursault Cuvée Maxime was perhaps a bit simple, if pleasant, the premiers crus all were quite good, beginning with a floral, balanced Narvaux and moving up the ladder to a rich and crowd-pleasing Charmes, and a more serious Genevrières, with lovely white flowers, anise, juniper and spice; though a touch soft on entry, there was some strong minerally acidity which gave boldness to this wine. The minerality dominated the Perrières, but there were white flowers, citrus notes, and a very spicy long finish. The Puligny Champ Canet was, as befits its terroir, a very different wine on the nose, but it had tension, power and drive. Finally, the Meursault Genevrières Cuvee des Pierre was a complete and balanced wine, with a racy quality and a long, minerally spicy finish.  The ‘09s here I found mostly soft and charming, but with considerable sucrosity—pleasant wines, to be sure, but not at all at the level of the ‘10s.

De Montille/Chateau de Puligny-Montrachet:  Alix de Montille’s style in making the whites is biased towards acid, and while that is not usually a bad thing, there were a couple of these wines that could have been better balanced. Among those I liked were the Village Puligny, with a great floral quality and quite a bit of richness for a Village wine; the Meursault Bouchères, with a floral and perfumed nose, fat on the palate but with nice balancing acidity and an excellent finish; the Meursault Perrières, minerally and rich, with a long if slightly dry finish; and especially the Puligny Caillerets, its nose hinting of licorice, white flowers and citrus, still a bit closed on the palate but showing great cut and structure, and a very long, lingering finish.

Bouchard:  The range of whites was a bit disappointing this year, compared to recent years, and in general I found them to be fat and superficially charming, but lacking classic structure. This was not the case with the Chevalier La Cabotte, which clearly had a wonderful nose, but at this point still lacked integration on the palate, or the Montrachet, which was a massive, powerful wine, aristocratic even, but even here, I’m not sure it has the balance to evolve well. Very different, however, were the Fèvre Chablis, which really were quite fine. The Bougros Côte de Bouguerots had nice medium body and balance, a bit of tannin, and a long, flinty and minerally finish, while the Valmur was a real heavyweight, very steely, the fruit discreet but present—this wine could be a long distance runner. The Preuses was better still, with anise and spice, lemon cream and gingerbread and excellent acidity; it was a more complete wine than any that preceded it. However, the best was Les Clos, with great presence on the nose, with touches of lemon cream, minerals and steel, some reticent fruit on the steely palate, and a very long, spicy finish with an oystershell aftertaste—a very fine, very characteristic bottle.

Drouhin: Here we started with the Chablis, and again this seems, at least from the distance of Beaune, to be a very promising Chablis vintage. The Chablis Les Clos was particularly good, with spice, gingerbread and minerals on the nose, a soft floral style on the palate, great charm, and a steely edge on the finish which I liked. The whites from the Cote de Beaune seemed more variable; among the better bottles were a soft and quite charming Meursault Village, a similarly soft Puligny Folatières that, while not racy or taut, had much charm with white flowers, lime and peaches as well as spice; a well-cut Chassagne Morgeot Marquis de Laguiche, more my style with some knife-edge minerality and purity; a good, spicy, minerally Meursault Perrières; and a very fine Beaune Clos des Mouches, with a black fruit element, spicy, earthy, transparent, long and racy. The Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche was quite fine also, very minerally, still evolving, with great volume, complex spice and stone fruit (peach, quince, pear) and very long.

Jadot:  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. Certainly these wines do not lack for acidity, though whether allowing the green apple flavors to mature into something softer and possibly more elegant would have helped the wines rather than harmed them, is something we can’t ever know. Overall, I thought the results here were mixed; while I liked the Chassagne Morgeot Clos de la Chapelle (from the Domaine de Magenta) and the Puligny Folatières, I wondered about the ultimate balance in each case.  I was more impressed with the Bâtard, which was very tightly wound, with good cut, power and a dry racy minerally finish, the Corton-Charlemagne, with real minerally depth to it and spicy, creamy notes as well as white flowers and red fruit; and I especially liked the Chevalier Les Demoiselles, with a complex nose of minerals, white flowers, garden spices and heather, a superb palate expression of sweet fruit melded with a minerally cut, and a long dry minerally finish. Sadly, however, the Demoiselles has been suffering particularly badly from premature oxidation in recent years (currently including the ’05), a fact that Lardière dismissed with a wave of his hand.

Faiveley:  Most of the Côte de Beaune whites had only recently finished their malolactic fermentations, and were still cloudy. As a result, they were not showing particularly well, and will need to be retasted at a later time to get a more accurate view of their ultimate quality. However, here too the Chablis were better, with a good Fourchaume (from Vaulorent) that came on strongly at the finish, and an easy and delicious (if not quite classically structured) Les Clos.

Other Whites:  My colleagues reported excellent results at Paul Pillot and Bernard Moreau, as well as Bonneau du Martray, which sadly I did not have an opportunity to verify. Among the wines I encountered elsewhere, and liked, were a very fine Meursault Village at Domaine Lafarge, with a spicy, floral, butterfat nose, good acidity and a long spicy finish—an excellent Village wine (and also a good Beaune Aigrots from Lafarge that was floral and spicy, if not as interesting as the Meursault Village); a Nuits Clos de la Maréchale Blanc from Mugnier that was quite delicious, with spicy limestone notes, white flowers, and sweet fruit; very good Clos Monts-Luisants and Corton-Charlemagne from Ponsot, and a brilliant Montrachet (one barrel, from the Puligny side), with a wonderful spicy, floral minerally nose with great energy, while on the palate it was honeyed, minerally, intense and very long. Roumier’s Corton-Charlemagne was also first-rate, with white flowers, minerals, spice and beeswax on the nose, great balance, and lots of spice, stone fruit and minerals on the palate. Senard’s Corton Blanc was also attractive, with rich buttery, floral and citric notes on the well-balanced palate. Finally, one of the most interesting whites of the trip was ’09 Morey-St.-Denis En La Rue de Vergy from Bruno Clair (as the ‘10s had just finished malo, Bruno did not feel they were ready to be shown), a spicy wine with a lot of charm and rich fruit, some acidity, and pineapple and orange notes, not a grand wine, but a very good one (89) from deep in red wine territory.

 

© 2011 Douglas E. Barzelay

 

BURGUNDY REPORT—A FOLLOW-UP ON THE 2008s

Drouhin Cellar - November, 2010

 

2008 Revisited, and Other Notes

In last year’s vintage report, I noted the difficulties of tasting the 2008s in November 2009:

“Malos often did not finish until August or September, and in a few cases were not finished even at the time of our visit in mid-November ….Many of the wines we tasted had only recently been racked, or were in need of a racking, and as a result were much more difficult to assess than is typically true at this time of year. In addition, the vintage is characterized by high acidities, and often as well by dry tannins, which frequently made tasting a chore and left one’s palate exhausted at the end of the day. More importantly, it made judgment difficult.  In the best of times, barrel tasting is an inexact art ….This year, it is even more problematic, and one kept wishing for the opportunity to taste these wines in 3 months, when they surely will have become less obdurate.”

While the main focus of our trip in November 2010 was on the ’09s, we did have an opportunity to taste a good sampling of  ’08s, and I am happy to report that there are a number of wines that have turned out well, especially among the whites, but also among the reds. That said, on the red side my view is more one of relief that there are wines that will give pleasure, rather than that this is somehow a great, underrated terroir vintage. While I heard many comparisons of 2008 to 2001 during our trip, I am not convinced that 2008 is at the same level as 2001. Of course, when making comparisons, one has first to define what is being compared, and while 2001 was a very uneven vintage in the Côte-de-Nuits, and problematic (among the reds) in the Côte-de-Beaune, I think that among the producers that I follow in the Côte-de-Nuits, their 2001s are ultimately better balanced, more serious wines than their 2008s. Nonetheless, time will tell, so for those of you who disagree, come back in twenty years and let me know what you think! As for the whites, this is an interesting vintage, with some first-rate wines but also a lot of wines that are still unbalanced and acidic. Above all, careful selection is critical.

REDS:

Michel Gaunoux: I never know quite where in my reports to include Michel Gaunoux, as they make a point of not showing wines in barrel, and their focus is generally on vintages that have been in bottle for quite some time. However, as they did begin this year with their ’08s, I include them here. The Pommard Grands Epenots had bright red fruit on the nose and palate, lively acidity and good balance (90), while the Corton Renardes, if a touch light for a grand cru, was quite charming, with notes of cherry and spice and added depth on a long finish (91).  The ’05 Pommard Grands Epenots and Rugiens were in a different league: the former with a dense brooding, earthy and minerally nose, but lots of fruit on the palate, a sense of raciness, and excellent weight and density (93)—the makings of a delicious Pommard in 30 years!–and the latter showing lovely red fruit, minerals and perfume, with a beautiful transparency, earthy, medium weight yet powerful and tightly wound (94). The 2005 Corton Renardes was also very nice, but lacked a little elegance (92). An ’03 Pommard Grands Epenots was surprisingly forward and drinkable despite the tannins (89-90), while the ’03 Rugiens seemed much more serious, with a perfumed quality, excellent minerality and a great fruit finish, not overripe, tannins relatively in check, and also drinkable now though it will improve (93). An ’01 Pommard Rugiens had all the elements, but seemed still shut down and unready (90?).  A ’98 Corton Renardes was foxy, alright, but not in a good way (84), while an ’88 Pommard Epenots had black fruit, earth and minerals, possibly a bit unbalanced to acid but the tannins at least were fairly resolved for an ’88 (90+). The last wine served was a mystery vintage of Pommard Rugiens, with rich red fruit, minerals, spice and a touch of VA on the nose, and wonderful sweet fruit plus prominent minerality on the palate, and despite a hint of sous-bois on the palate, it was complete, silky and charming (94). Your faithful correspondent earned himself considerable brownie points with the Gaunoux—but alas, not a free bottle—by correctly guessing the vintage, 1947.

Dujac: Jacques Seysses, while not quite admitting that ’07 was a very weak vintage for this domaine, expressed great pride in the ’08s, saying he felt that Dujac was near the top in the vintage. The Morey Village had a lot of rich red fruit, some green olives, and good minerality, tho a somewhat dry finish (87). Gevrey Combottes was excellent if a bit dry at the finish, though with plenty of sweet fruit after (90+), and I liked it a bit better than the Charmes-Chambertin, which despite some nice red cherry fruit on the nose, was very meaty, with a lot of dry tannins at the back (88). The Vosne Malconsorts showed nice medium weight, sweet red cherries, minerality, spice and a touch of the stems, with a lovely spicy red fruit finish, light tannins and slight dryness on the finish (92). Regrettably, we had to leave for our next appointment before we could wrest the Clos-de-la-Roche or Clos-St.-Denis away from les journalistes (Messrs. Meadows and Kolm) in the adjoining cellar.

Grivot: We had the opportunity to taste a range of ’08s here, and they were quite interesting to see. The Vosne Village did not seem well put together (84) and the Vosne Beaumonts, while pleasant, seemed dry at the back (87) but the Nuits Boudots was a very nice wine, with an excellent nose of spice and strawberries, and an earthy, minerally and transparent palate, with the tannins in check even though there was slight dryness at the end (91). The Clos-de-Vougeot had a subdued nose of strawberries and spice, minerality and good balance, and the fierce tannins of a year ago seemed to be rounding out a bit (90+). The Echézeaux seemed pleasant but less interesting (89), while the Richebourg was quite powerful, and dense for an ’08, and though the tannins were prominent, the red fruit on the finish superceded them (92).

Hudelot-Noellat: Another nice range of ’08s, beginning with a spicy Chambolle Village (88), a rather subdued and unforthcoming Chambolle Charmes (87), and a lighter-style Nuits Meurgers with nice strawberry fruit and earth notes, slightly dry at the end (88).  The Vosne Beaumonts had a very pretty red fruit nose, and good minerality, though it too was a tad dry at the finish (90). Clos-de-Vougeot had good density and sweet fruit, good balance and the tannins were not overbearing (91), and Romanee-St.-Vivant had lovely red fruit and spice and was rich, elegant and long (92). To me, this range epitomized a lot of the better ’08s I saw: very nice, with good fruit and transparency, but still a lot of tannin and acidity to work through and clearly not the depth or balance of a top-quality vintage.

Lafarge: Not much at the lower or even middle levels: a Bourgogne that seemed a bit underripe; a Volnay Village that also seemed slightly underripe but had nice minerality; a Beaune Aigrots that had good transparency and was long if slightly tannic; a Beaune Grèves that had a good perfumed nose but a hardness on the palate that would not give up; a Volnay Mitans that was perfumed, but in the style of a painted lady, earthy and coarse; and a Volnay Clos-du-Château- des-Ducs that had more moderate tannins, but also a lack of structure in the middle.  Things got much better with the Volnay Clos-des-Chênes, with spice, black cherries and minerals on the nose, a balanced minerally wine with more covered tannins (90?) and the Volnay Caillerets, which was very transparent, a slight bit chunky on the mid-palate but not obtrusively so, and had a lovely finish of black cherries and minerals, with tannins modulated (90).

Lambrays: I include the Domaine des Lambrays here because it is a good example of the less successful side of ’08. 100% whole clusters were used here in ’08, and the results are dry, tannic wines that certainly aren’t showing much balance at any level: Morey Village (86), Morey 1er Cru Les Loups (87) or Clos-des-Lambrays (?).

Liger-Belair: While the ’08 Vosne Reignots seemed at this stage to be cloaked in an impenetrable armor of oak, the Echézeaux was much more forthcoming, with light cherry flavors, strong minerally acidity, and good spice, and of course plenty of tannin after (90), while La Romanée showed excellent Vosne spicebox character, nice transparency, and a defter touch of oak; it is a lighter style of La Romanée, but the tannins are not overdone and it should round out nicely (91-92).

Georges Mugneret-Gibourg: Given the steadily high quality of the winemaking at this domaine, I see these wines as a bellwether for the vintage: weaker at the lower levels, very nice for the most part among the premier and grand crus, but rarely exciting.  The Bourgogne was not fully balanced (82) and the Vosne Village was barnyardy and seemed under-ripe (?) but things improved considerably from there. The Nuits Les Vignerondes was light but pure (88) and the Chaignots had light sweet fruit and minerals, citrus and spice and a nice minerally earthy finish (88+), while the Chambolle Feusellottes had very nice light Chambolle fruit on the nose, with good minerality, excellent equilibrium, a touch of hardness on the finish but also spicy sweet fruit (89). The Echézeaux had good balance, red fruit, a chocolate note, some citrus and acid at the end but overall was a pleasant wine (91). The Gevrey 1er Cru (young vines Ruchottes) had good presence and transparency and a decent amount of fruit (90), and while there was more complexity to the Ruchottes, with purity and balance, it seemed a little sappy and dry on the back, and so I scored it the same as the jeunes vignes (90). The Clos-de-Vougeot was very minerally, a touch meaty, with light spice and citrus; though it seemed slightly ponderous, it had a lot to it, with surprisingly silky tannins and a nice pure citrus and mineral finish (91+).

Mugnier: Another bellwether. The Chambolle Villages had pleasant fruit, but was a bit dry and short (87); the Nuits Clos des Fourches was also a bit light, rustic but also pleasant (86), and the Nuits Clos-de-la-Maréchale seemed to me to have too much rustic tannin despite its sweet rich fruit (87). The Chambolle Fuées, however, was a lovely wine, if slightly simple (89) and the Bonnes-Mares was earthy and minerally, with spice and black cherries, a nicely blanced wine that reminded me in style of a ’98 (90). The Chambolle Amoureuses was a big step up, with lovely red fruit and spice on the nose, minerals, anise and a long spicy finish—there is a lot of charm in this wine (92). The Musigny had deep red fruit, spice and minerals on the nose, lovely weight and gracefulness to it, a fairly dense wine with a vibrant finish and still a lot of tannin, again analogous to the ’98 in its overall quality level though not necessarily in its flavor profile (92-93).

Roumier: These wines were showing far better than a year earlier. Christophe thinks his ’08s will drink soon. The Chambolle Village had a lot of lovely red fruit, if slight sappiness at the end (87), while the Chambolle Les Cras was much more serious, with light spicy fruit on the nose and palate, a touch of lavender, and acidity that is clearly present but not overwhelming, leading to a spicy finish (90). The Chambolle Amoureuses had a lovely nose of small berry fruit and deep spice; on the palate there were also hints of smoke and wild mushrooms, and good minerality, with the acidity not overwhelming; on the finish the tannins seemed slightly hard but there was luscious fruit there as well (92-93). The Bonnes-Mares started with an odd hint of buttered popcorn but then became dense and minerally with both red and black fruit notes, while on the palate it was intense and spicy (93+?); I thought it had more to it in terms of density than any other ’08 I tasted this trip (which unfortunately did not include a revisit of the DRC or Rousseau ’08s tasted last year).

Other ’08 Reds: A very transparent Clos-des-Epeneaux from Comte Armand, though showing some heavy tannins at the end (90) and a Nuits Aux Thoreys from Benjamin Leroux that showed great purity on the nose, ripe fruit and earth, citrus, and a reasonable level of tannin (90); a spicy Clos-de-Tart, with sweet red fruit, still a bit high in acidity (89); only two wines from Méo, neither showing at all: a funky, stripped Vosne Village with very dry tannins (82) and the unfortunate Nuits Aux Argillas I referred to in my report on the ’09s (70); from Chateau de la Tour, a regular Clos-de-Vougeot that seemed a bit marked by the stems, with good minerality but dry tannins (87) and a Clos-de-Vougeot Vielles Vignes that had nice purity, density and depth, with spice and cherry fruit and finer tannins than the regular version (89-90); and a decidedly mixed bag from Trapet, beginning with a Gevrey L’Ostrea and a Gevrey Clos Prieur, both opened two days earlier, that showed chemical notes, then a Chapelle-Chambertin that had transparency but also quite strong tannins, and a Latricières-Chambertin that seemed quite representative of the vintage in that it had nice transparency but a bit too much acid and not quite enough fruit (88), and finally a Chambertin that displayed an aristocratic nose, a lot of very precise fruit and minerals, but just too much acidity to achieve balance (89-90).

WHITES:

Côte-de-Beaune

Leflaive: While the bottling here normally takes place in the spring, the ’08s were not bottled until just before our visit, because of the prolonged malos. Interestingly, the Meursault 1er Cru Sous le Dos d’Âne (from a vineyard planted to pinot noir until 1995, with a little even remaining until 2002) had a rich, creamy, bacon fat nose, a lot of minerals and spice, and a strong strike of acid in back (90). The Puligny Combettes, while showing a lot of SO2 that for the time being seemed to suppress the nose a bit, was very minerally, with excellent weight, energy and drive. There is a good bit of acidity at the finish, and this wine needs time (91+).  Antoine Lepetit believes that 2008 has more maturity and concentration than 1996; if true, it portends a brilliant future for these wines.

Lambrays: A fairly nice Folatières, with a hint of apricots, soft for an ’08 with lots of white flowers, but more tension than the ’09 (89-90). The Clos du Caillerets, however, had a curious note of torrefaction on both the nose and palate, and a touch of caramel, which I disliked (84).

Latour-Giraud: Though the Meursault Cuvée Charles Maxime and the Narvaux were not showing particularly well, and the Genevrieres had an off-putting note of asparagus on the palate, the Meursault Charmes showed well, with good minerality covered by white flowers, apples and spice (90), as did the Meursault Genevrières Cuvée des Pierre, with hints of wildflowers, stones and honey on the nose; on the palate it was somewhat brooding but very pure, with a stony element but a nice balancing floral component and a touch of spice—a concentrated wine that needs time to come together (92). By contrast, the nose of the Meursault Perrières leapt out of the glass, with notes of stoniness, white flowers, anise and pear; on the palate it had similar notes, great balance and a spicy long finish—a long distance runner (93-94).

Bernard Moreau: The ’08s here (as at several other stops) very much outclassed the ’09s. The Chassagne Maltroie had some nice peach spice, ginger and a hint of clove, along with some fat but lots of minerally acidity to balance (91), while the Chassagne Chenevottes was more restrained on the nose, but had a creamy texture notwithstanding the acidity, a lot of power, and a licorice note on the finish (91). The Chassagne Vergers ran more to russet apples, with a dense, driven minerality, though a touch of dryness on the finish led me to mark it slightly below the two prior wines (90). Still more impressive were the Chassagne Morgeots, with spicy apples and smoke on the nose, and powerful, sweet fruit to balance the minerality, plus a long fruit-driven finish, very pure, and needing two years or more (93), and the Chassagne Grands-Ruchottes, with a brilliant nose of spice and white flowers, and great balance and delicacy on the palate, a wine that stays up gracefully on its feet (94).

Paul Pillot: I wish we had had a chance to sample more ‘08s here. The three we did see all had more weight than the ‘09s. The Chassagne Clos St.-Jean had a spicy, floral nose with good balance (89-90), while the Chassagne Grande Montagne had a penetrating nose of spice, honey and lemon cream, became even creamier on the palate, and ended with a dry minerally finish (90). Best was the Chassagne Caillerets, with anise, minerals, spice and lemon on the nose, a lot of tension on the palate, a floral touch, and a racy, tense minerally finish, with great drive—“my kind of white Burg,” I noted(92).

DRC: Tasting the prior vintage Montrachet was a pleasure we don’t always get at the Domaine.  The nose had spice, honeysuckle, pain d’épice and minerals; these carried through on the rich and complex palate, with a hint of sweet plums as well as a touch of oak at the back, and the finish was powerful and extremely long, with pain d’épice, minerals and bracing acidity—Aubert noted that this is one of the most minerally Montrachets the Domaine has ever made. For me, though, there is a slight hint of fattiness that makes it not quite in the class of the ’96. (93-94).

Roulot: This was one of the few domaines where I tended to prefer the ’09s to the ’08s. The Meursault Luchets had a rich nose of honeysuckle, smoke and a touch of bacon fat; on the palate, there was an asparagus note I didn’t care for, with minerals after, and a short finish (84).  To pause here, we also tasted the ’07 Luchets, a far better wine, with minerals, anise, spice and fat in the nose, a ripe and round wine with nevertheless a minerally streak, and a long minerally finish (90). Jean-Marc commented that the ’07 was “very Roulot.” We then retasted the ’09 Luchets, and while it was more linear than the ’07 it had more weight and intensity, and may well have more potential than the ’07; the ’08 was a very distant third in this race. We then segued back to the ’08s, with a Meursault Tessons Clos de Mon Plaisir that had a vegetal note on the nose and artichokes on the finish, though some good minerality and tension (86), and a decent but not exciting Meursault Perrières, with smoke and a hint of cardoons on the nose, a lot of flesh for an ’08, minerals, red currants and allspice on the medium-weight palate, and a finish with spice, slate and a hint of caramel (88).

Chablis

Fevre: We only tasted two ’08s, but they clearly overshadowed anything we tasted among the ’09s. The Bougros (Côte de Bouguerots) was much spicier than the ’09 version, with more acidity in evidence as well, an intense rich racy but balanced wine, leaner than ’09 though there was sweet fruit in evidence, with a long minerally uncompromising finish (92). Didier Séguier thought it was the best Côte de Bouguerots in the twelve years since Bouchard had taken over the estate. Les Clos, while not giving too much away just yet, had even more depth—more “civilized” than the Côte de Bouguerots, with notes of apples, spice, pears and minerals, a large-framed wine, with pain d’épice and brioche on the finish; this wine needs time (93+).

Christian Moreau: While the ’08 bottles we tasted had been open for several days, they were holding relatively well—indeed in a couple of cases still seemed relatively unforthcoming.  The Chablis Vaudésir, from relatively young vines, was slightly toasty on the nose and very minerally and powerful, if a bit dry at the finish (90), while the Chablis Valmur seemed very cool and austere, not especially forthcoming or knit, though perhaps it will come together in time (89?). Les Clos was considerably better, and despite a discreet nose of toast and gingerbread, it had lovely weight, knife-edge minerality, and a rich, long, if slightly hot finish (92). Best of all, though, was the Clos des Hospices, with a nose of spice, licorice, minerals and a touch of honey, lovely weight and balance between the fruit and minerality on the palate, and a long, spicy finish (95).

Other ’08 Whites: Among the other ’08 whites we tasted were a pleasant Corton Blanc from Senard, with some nice spice and minerals, a touch of sweetness and a nice minerally finish with good cut (though the ’07 was better), and a surprisingly good ’08 Chablis Montée de Tonnerre from La Chablisienne (I found it more racy and appealing than either the Vaudésir or the Preuses from the same source).

An Update (If You Can Call It That) on Premox: Finally, and sadly, no report on white Burgundies is complete without a note about premature oxidation. In brief, the problem continues, with the ’02s becoming increasingly affected and some of the ’04s beginning to show signs of it as well.  While, as I reported last year, the focus has partly shifted from the corks, as concerns are increasingly voiced that various elements of the winemaking process have been making the wines more susceptible to oxidation, and that the cork issues then determined which and how many of the resulting bottles would be affected. Much attention is now being focused on the pressing process, with the theory being advanced that the wines are not getting enough exposure to oxygen early on, and that, as with children, exposure at a young age to certain maladies helps build greater immunity to them later in life (this is not to ignore the role of other factors, particularly earlier in this ongoing saga, such as increased use of battonage and lowered SO2 levels, but these are not currently issues for the better producers).  While more producers are admitting that there is a problem, denial itself remains an issue, particularly as sales do not yet seem to be seriously affected.  The mixed mindset of many Burgundians was strikingly evidenced in one cellar we visited, where the producer, among the most thoughtful in the region, had just finished telling us about an experiment he was conducting beginning with his ’09s to see if (to greatly simplify what he is doing) changes in the winemaking process that would expose the wine to more oxygenation early on would, in effect, inoculate the wine from future problems. It sounded like a very interesting experiment but it will take years to see if it’s working (the producer asked not to be named until he has some indication of the results).  After this discussion, he served us one of his ’02s, which we found to be seriously premoxed.  Before serving us another bottle, he asked us to taste an ’04, and then retaste the ’02.  He admitted that he had at first felt that our reaction to the ’02 was overblown, and might have resulted from the transition from ’09 to ’02, but as he went back to the ’02 he (somewhat reluctantly, it seemed) admitted we were right. He then opened a second bottle of the ’02, which also had a clear touch of premox, though it was not as prominent as the first, and a lively debate ensued in which the producer took view that we were overreacting and that the wine was still drinkable. My view, which I expressed to him then and continue to hold, is that while it might well have been “drinkable,” it was not what it is supposed to be, and furthermore not something one would voluntarily pay $100 or more for in a store, or several times that in a restaurant. I thought it a sad portent that a producer who on one level is at the forefront of recognizing and dealing with the problem, should on another level still be reluctant to acknowledge its effect on his own wines.  Plus ça change….

BURGUNDY TRIP NOVEMBER 2010 — PART 1: 2009 An Outstanding Red Wine Vintage

Clos Vougeot November 2010

During November 2010, I visited nearly 40 producers and negociants to assess the 2009 vintage in barrel. Part 1 of this report summarizes my overall conclusions about 2009 and also my views on each of the domaines/maisons visited. Part 2, which will be posted separately, summarizes those 2008s that I was able to taste in bottle.

2009 — An Outstanding Red Wine Vintage

The old Burgundian expression is “Août fait le moût” (August makes the must) and in 2009, following unsettled weather earlier in the season (including hail in Morey and Gevrey in May), sunny and hot weather settled in around the 10th of August.  With brief exceptions, fine weather lasted well into the harvest, which began in early September.  Important choices had to be made about picking dates, not so much because of weather changes but in determining the balance between ripeness and freshness (as one noted critic commented, everything in Burgundy involves trade-offs).   The white wines in particular were susceptible to becoming overly rich and losing their balancing acidity and terroir character, and perhaps nowhere on this trip were the differences in result more starkly in evidence than between the early-picked Chablis of Fèvre and the late-picked Chablis of Moreau.

For the reds, the question is not whether 2009 is an outstanding vintage—it assuredly is—but how great.  There was much discussion, but no consensus, among the producers, as to what the vintage might be compared to. 2005 was not viewed as a comparable vintage, though there was debate as to which vintage was preferred. My own view is that 2005 is a denser vintage than 2009 and over the long run will be more complex, longer lived, and more consistent across the board. But there are producers (albeit a minority of those I spoke with) who disagree, and while admitting that 2009 is not nearly as consistent as 2005, believe that the 2009s at their best show their terroirs better than 2005 and that the seductive ripe fruit will bring more pleasure. Bernard Hervet of Maison Faiveley compared 2009 to 1959, a great Burgundy vintage of rich, ripe fruit that maintained its balance and charm for close to 50 years, though many are now tiring. For Hervet, as well as for Robert Drouhin, 2005 is more reminiscent of 1961, a vintage that took nearly 40 years to begin to show well, and that now, for the best wines, is characterized by outstanding balance and finesse, with a striking linearity and presence, though many wines dried up without ever having fully opened. I am not entirely convinced, however, by the ’05/’61 analogy, as too many ’61s never really had the right balance (though to be fair, the general quality of winemaking in 1961 was not nearly what it is today). Other producers see ’09 as a cross between ’99 and ’90, and the interesting part of this analogy to me is that while ’99 is a vintage that combines excellent ripe fruit with great balance (and high yields), ’90 is a more problematic vintage: one that was expected to be great but that has often proven, other than at the very top levels, to be unbalanced and overripe.  See my summary of the 1990s in A Tale of Two Vintages.  While I think ’09 will prove to be a much better vintage overall than ’90, there are likely to be a significant number of  ’09s that will suffer the same fate as the lesser ’90s, in that they will show overripe (or deliberately over-extracted) flavors and will ultimately lack balance and grace. While we do not visit many of the over-extractors, there are still more than a few of them around, some with very high reputations, and in this vintage there was much to over-extract. But even among the stylistically more proficient, there are enough chocolate overtones in the wines to give one pause about overripeness. (Here too, Bernard Hervet has his own take on matters: he sees ’09 as more “mocha/coffee,” which he feels is a positive sign of ripe seeds, rather than “mocha/chocolate.”)  In short, discrimination is still necessary, even in a vintage such as 2009.

Despite these caveats, I do think that the best ’09 reds show ripe fruit, excellent terroir, great balance and silky tannins.  Even among the best, though, there are significant stylistic differences, with some excellent producers striving for, and succeeding, in producing wines of balance and delicacy, and others that have produced deeper and more powerful wines, while still avoiding over-extraction. I also believe there is a good chance that many of the wines of this vintage will not close up, or will do so only for a short time, and will produce great pleasure throughout their lives.

The white wines are a somewhat different, though related, story.  As noted above, the vintage tended to produce fruity, slightly blowsy wines that lack balance. However, the quality of winemaking at the top in Burgundy is such that a number of producers were able to exceed the general standards of the vintage by producing wines of balance and finesse. Here, for the most part, it was a question of picking early to avoid overripeness, and though many producers seem to have been seduced by the prospect of achieving great richness, a few of the best had the confidence to pick earlier and achieved stunning results.

Finally, a word about the 2008s, particularly the reds. In last year’s report, I noted that the barrel tastings had been among the most difficult of my experience, as the late malos had resulted in wines that, last November, were marked by hard tannins and raspy acidity. As a result, I felt that ultimate judgment should be deferred, though the auguries did not seem auspicious. I am happy to report that the wines have improved considerably in the intervening year, and while this will never rank among my favorite vintages, there are a number of wines that have lovely red fruit and are quite pure, and where the tannins have become less obtrusive. That said, there are also still many unbalanced and unlovely wines, and even the best reds (among those we tasted) seem to lack a degree of grace and finesse.  I have included those notes in a separate Part 2 of this report.

REDS

The Domaines:

CÔTE-DE-NUITS

Bruno Clair: First rate wines from this domaine, which has had a string of successes yet does not get the acclaim it deserves.  One of the hallmarks of the 2009 vintage is that the “lesser” appellations got ripe and that there are some potential bargains among these wines; at Bruno Clair, for example, they produced an excellent Marsannay Grasses Têtes and an even better Savigny Les Dominodes, from 108-year old vines, both showing rich fruit but also great purity. However, it is among the higher appellations that the domaine particularly shines, having produced a fine Gevrey Clos du Fonteny and very good Cazetiers, as well as an outstanding Gevrey Clos-St.-Jacques, with a lot of minerals and sweet fruit, a penetrating wine with almost grand cru weight that finished with firm but ripe tannins. Even better was the Clos-de-Bèze, from vines planted in 1912, showing spice and smoked meat on the nose, and a nice citrus note, powerful but with great balance and very fine tannins, and a long, complex, subtle and transparent finish. The Bonnes-Mares was equally excellent, showing black cherries, hay and spice and a hint of chocolate on the nose, and great drive and energy on the palate, with a spicy finish and a touch of dry tannin at the end.

Trapet: Jean-Louis Trapet has made significant strides in the last several years in bringing these wines back towards the level of greatness they had achieved through the early ’70s. However, the 2009s still seemed somewhat inconsistent to me, with some showing too much oak influence, though the Clos Prieur, Latricières and Chambertin were very good–particularly the latter, which had power, minerality and lift; the oak was still a little prominent but likely to be absorbed, and the finish was subtle and long.

Rousseau: Not surprisingly, brilliant wines in ’09. The wines were picked relatively early, beginning September 7th. The Gevrey Village was excellent, as were the Lavaux-St.-Jacques, the Charmes and the Clos-de-la-Roche;  only the Cazetiers did not seem quite on form, at least the day we were there. The Mazis was a further step up, with a complex nose, a rich yet transparent middle palate, excellent weight, and a long transparent finish. The Ruchottes was even better, with incredible spice and deep fruit on the nose; it was a powerful, dense wine, but with silky tannins and great persistence. In this vintage, I slightly preferred it to the Clos-St.-Jacques which followed it, though the latter was certainly very fine, a harmonious wine with great density of fruit. The Clos-de-Bèze was slightly reduced on the nose but still showed huge fruit and power on the palate, an intense wine that nevertheless kept its balance. The star, however, and one of the best wines of the vintage, was the Chambertin: a complex, aristocratic nose, with great power, balance and presence on the palate, already developing a silky texture; a profound wine that managed to keep its delicacy despite its stuffing. Brilliant!

Clos-de-Tart: As is typical, we tasted 6 different cuvees that will be used in the final blend, including a blind tasting of three different cuvees: 100%, 50% and zero whole cluster (an interesting exercise for those who were there).  The blended ’09 had gorgeous black fruit, minerals and pain d’épice on the nose, and on the palate the rich fruit was balanced by a lovely minerality; this was a harmonious, elegant wine with some new oak presence but not an obtrusive one, and a spicy long finish.

Dujac: A fabulous success for Dujac in ’09. While I have been critical of some recent vintages here, particularly ’07, Dujac did very well in the difficult ’08 vintage (see Part 2 of this report) as well as in ’09. Dujac is one of the participants in the Climats du Coeur, a charity bottling of four premier cru wines from this vintage, each from a range of climats within the four appellations, which contributed by participating producers.  Dujac is doing the elevage for the Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru, and it had a spicy, meaty nose, with a touch of wood still evident, excellent weight and presence on the palate, sweet fruit and good minerality, and a deceptively long finish.  Among the successful wines from the domaine itself were a very minerally, spicy and restrained Vosne Malconsorts, which perhaps lacked just a little concentration; an elegant (and also restrained) Clos-St.-Denis, with excellent balance and sophisticated tannins; and Romanée-St.-Vivant that was quite spicy, with rich cherry, mineral and game notes and a very long, transparent and spicy finish—an elegant and even delicate RSV.  The Clos-de-la-Roche was particularly lovely, very minerally, with excellent fruit and great balance, a fascinating and elegant counterpoint to Ponsot’s dense and rich CDLR tasted just before; really, it’s a question of what style one prefers, not of quality.  Jacques was careful to credit Jeremy and Diana, who surely deserve kudos for a great range of wines in ’09.

Lambrays: A crowd-pleasing Morey Village, a slightly soft Morey 1er Cru, and a nice but not profound Clos-des-Lambrays, in the fleshier style of ’09, which will be very easy to drink and enjoyable from a young age. While this was certainly a nice wine, I confess to a degree of disappointment with these wines in the last several vintages, compared to what I believe winemaker Thierry Bruin is capable of.

Ponsot: You would expect great wines from Laurent Ponsot in a vintage such as ’09, and he has not disappointed. Even the basic Bourgogne was a very nice wine, as were the Chambolle Cuvée des Cigales and, at more exalted levels, the Chambolle Charmes and then the new Corton Cuvée du Bourdon (a blend of grand cru vineyards which on this day outshone the Corton Bressandes), the Clos-de-Vougeot, and the Clos-de-Bèze. Laurent particularly loves his Chapelle-Chambertin this year, and while certainly I found much to admire in its intensity and richness, I personally preferred the Griottes, which despite its dense rich fruit retained a great sense of balance, helped by an intense minerality that runs through the palate and into the finish. The Chambertin, not always a top wine here, was particularly good this year, with deep spice and sour cherries on the nose and an elegance on the palate, a spicy middleweight with excellent power. The Clos-St.-Denis, from 100+ year old vines, was very gracefully balanced, with deep fruit, meat, spice, leather and minerals, suave tannins and a long and lovely minerally finish. The Clos-de-la-Roche, however, took the palm, with a penetrating complex nose, rich sweet fruit on the palate, complexity, balance and harmony, and fully resolved tannins on an amazingly long finish of minerals and citrus.

Mugnier: Freddy Mugnier summed up the ’09 vintage thus:  “2009 will be a great vintage when it’s old. The only problem is that when it’s old, I will be dead.” Freddy also was in the minority of producers who said they found ’09 more concentrated than ’05, but given the style of his ‘09s, I can to some degree understand this comment. To me, Mugnier’s wines epitomize elegance, and they are usually wines that strive for finesse, not concentration. Yet his ‘09s surprised me by their weight and power. However, if they are somewhat atypical Mugnier wines, they are nonetheless superb.  The Chambolle Village is a great success, with a lovely transparency and expressive fruit. The Chambolle Fuées is extremely concentrated yet has the acidity to balance it, with lovely spice, currant and blackberry notes, fine tannins and a dense finish. The Bonnes-Mares was smoky and huge, intense and minerally—this wine still is the slight laggard in the Mugnier stable, but it’s a good wine in ’09. The Clos-de-la-Maréchale had a nose of red currants and earth, with slightly rustic tannins, again good but not inspirational. However, the Amoureuses was a different story, with a wonderful calm nose of red currants, minerals and a touch of mocha, and some fairly strong though refined tannins; unusually for Amoureuses, it seemed more a wine of weight and power than of elegance, though with a long and lovely finish. The Musigny, though in need of a racking, had a beautiful equilibrium despite its density and power, being blessed with great lift from the acidity, and a finish of immense length.

Roumier: Commenting on the analogies made to the ’90 and ’99 vintages, Christophe said that in his view ’09 was lighter and fresher than ’90, but that he found his ’99s more concentrated and tannic. While all his wines had been recently racked, one still could discern the high level of quality, which began with the Chambolle Village and continued through the Chambolle 1er crus, Combettes and Cras, and the Charmes-Chambertin. But the fireworks really got going with the Ruchottes, which had recovered nicely from its racking nine days earlier and displayed dense spice, meat and black fruit on the nose, great lift, balance and complexity and excellent fruit expression. The Amoureuses, despite some effects from the racking, showed great vibrancy and elegance, with some strong tannins, which as noted above also seemed present in the Mugnier Amoureuses. The Bonnes-Mares had a brilliant nose, with spicy dense black fruit and hay, great presence on the palate—a dense yet balanced and elegant wine—and some strong yet paradoxically silky tannins and impressive length. The Musigny had even greater density and energy, and the classic Musigny sense of power without weight, with a spicy long, brilliant finish underpinned by very silky tannins. Overall, these wines are among the most successful of the vintage.

Château de la Tour: An excellent Clos-de-Vougeot, with rich raspberry and other red fruits on the nose, yet fundamentally a mineral-driven wine, very structured, with stems that give it a lot of dry tannin, but also the beginnings of a velvety texture on the long rich finish. The Clos-de-Vougeot Vielles Vignes was not just a more intense version but a very different wine, more marked by new oak, and one of the few wines of this vintage that showed fierce tannins. There is a lot of sweet fruit, though, and dry extract; this is a wine clearly built for the long haul.

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti: In 2009, DRC=OMG.  Aubert de Villaine is justifiably proud of his ’09s, which he likened to the ’59 vintage. The tasting began with the Vosne 1er Cru Climats du Coeur, which as noted above is a special cuvee produced for charity from eight premier cru vineyards belonging to different Vosne producers. The nose had a strong black cherry component and the wine was medium-bodied with a complex finish showing mocha and spice notes. There was ample wood in evidence, but Aubert feels it will integrate well over time. We next tasted the Corton, the first vintage of this blend of three grand cru vineyards from the Prince de Merode estate, Clos du Roi, Bressandes and Renardes (the Maréchaudes is not included as it remains subject to a separate metayage agreement). I asked Aubert why he had chosen to blend the vineyards and he said that they had first separated the wines into old and young vine cuvees, and that because not all the old vine cuvees were large enough to vinify separately, they had chosen to blend them instead. The wine had notes of black cherry, spice, coffee and bacon fat, and on the palate it was very transparent if in a distinctly lighter style than the wines that followed. The Echézeaux had a huge nose, excellent balance on the palate, and suave tannins. While both it and the Corton were certainly very fine, the Grands-Echézeaux was a noticeable step up, and the RomanéeSt.-Vivant a further large step from there. The Grands Ech was highly concentrated, dense, and very spicy, with a very long finish that had an almost blackstrap quality to it. The RSV, while large-framed for this vineyard, had characteristic notes of spice and violets and maintained an elegance and density at the same time, and its silky tannins and immensely beautiful spicy finish made the Grands Ech look a little earthbound by comparison.  The Richebourg, unfortunately, seemed a little tired from its recent racking, although its powerful minerality and incredible length promised much to come in the future. The La Tâche was in still another world, its nose just beginning to hint at extraordinary depths, with great minerality and transparency on the palate, and notes of spice, green olives, violets and game–an incredibly elegant wine, with an almost endless spicy finish and extremely sophisticated tannins. I don’t know how long the finish might have gone on, had it not been time to taste the Romanée-Conti. If the La Tâche was from another (and better) world, the RC was truly from another dimension. The nose had overtones of violets, spice, minerals, fruit and game and that touch of “green” as Aubert calls it (from the stems), that he says gives freshness and guarantees the future. This was a deep, layered and profound RC of incredible complexity yet grace, with silky tannins and a finish that left one fumbling for words—truly an emotionally thrilling experience. I probably can’t afford it, and it probably won’t be ready in my lifetime, but I’m buying it anyway. The wine of the vintage, without a doubt.

Grivot: This was, not surprisingly, a highly successful vintage for Etienne Grivot, who seems in recent years to have matured into one of the better winemakers in Vosne. The Vosne Village was quite enjoyable and the Nuits Roncieres and Pruliers were good, but things really got rolling with a very fine Nuits Boudots, a rich wine with very nice transparency. Here, Etienne commented that the wines of power in this vintage seemed to be showing better at the moment than the wines of finesse, but that the opposite had been true a few weeks earlier.  The Vosne Beaumonts was excellent, with dense chocolate and black cherry flavors on the palate, and an attractive soft silky quality on the finish; Grivot noted its “purity and energy.” The Vosne Suchots seemed softer and more approachable than the Beaumonts, and while many in the group preferred it, my vote remained with the Beaumonts. The Reignots had a more introspective nose, hinting at a lot of depth but not giving it away, and was well balanced on the palate, and although Etienne served it after the Beaumonts and Suchots, there were strong differences of opinion among the group as to where it stood among the three. The Clos-de-Vougeot was more Grivot Clos-de-Vougeot than ’ 09, by which I mean that the fierce tannins that always seem to be present in this cuvee were not modulated by the vintage, and the wine seemed almost tarry. It will be interesting to see how it turns out, but it clearly was in a different category from anything else in the Grivot cellar. The Echézeaux, while still carrying a fair amount of tannin, had more generous sweet fruit and good acidity; the wood here was a little more evident on the nose. The Richebourg was the star, however, with a calm, spicy and rich nose that had gamy notes, plus sweet red fruit, game and chocolate on the palate, suave tannins and a silky, long, transparent yet powerful finish. Etienne feels this is his best Richebourg so far, and I wouldn’t disagree.

Hudelot-Noéllat: The torch has been passed at this estate:  grandson Charles van Canneyt has increasingly taken over responsibility for running the domaine (except at the caisse, where Odile Hudelot still indomitably presides), while young winemaker Vincent Mugnier, after about 5 vintages here, is showing an increasing sense of confidence through his wines. These were reliably good wines across the board, with standouts including the Vosne Village, and the first really fine Vougeot Les Petits-Vougeots I have ever had (here or elsewhere), which had ripe cherry fruit and good minerality, especially fine balance and a silky quality to it. The three Vosne premier crus were all excellent, though here (in contrast to Grivot) I preferred the Suchots to the Beaumonts and my colleagues the reverse. (What is wrong with these people?) The Malconsorts, exceptionally, was shown after the Clos-de-Vougeot, though this was no insult to the CV, which despite the oak being a little too prominent had both silkiness and volume. However, the Malconsorts was, as Charles commented, more intense than the Clos-de-Vougeot, with great balance notwithstanding its density, again the silkiness that characterized so many of these wines, good transparency and a slightly dry (from the oak) but very persistent finish. The Romanée-St.-Vivant was even better, with a discreet nose, some oak on the palate but mostly ripe fruit and minerals, a silky texture, and tannins that were strong but covered—a wine that will mature into great elegance. By contrast, the Richebourg was more powerful, with great presence and density, a powerful driving black cherry and mineral finish, polished if firm tannins, and excellent length.

Liger-Belair: Not surprisingly, a first-rate range of wines here. The Vosne Clos du Château, a village lieu-dit, had a fine perfumed nose, with strong spice and mineral notes, all of which carried through the wine to a long, pure finish. The Vosne Chaumes (from the estate) was particularly pure and delicate for this cuvee, with great balance, in contrast to the Vosne Petits-Monts, which was cooler and took more time to emerge, showing stronger tannins but certainly a very fine wine, and the Vosne Suchots, which despite a little reduction on the nose showed excellent weight and balance. The Vosne Brulées, which is not commercialized as there is only one barrel (it does show up at charity auctions, however), was made with 19% whole clusters; it showed lovely red fruit, cool minerality and spice, and was a very transparent and extremely long wine.  The Reignots, as usual, was the star of the premier crus, and despite a touch of reduction on the nose, the elegance and purity of this wine really shone through, and a wonderful kaleidoscope of spice came up on the lengthy finish. We also tasted the Mazis-Chambertin Cuvee Collignon from the Hospices de Beaune (of which I was one of the purchasers), and although it is still marked by the Hospices oak, which will take time to integrate, it is showing rich ripe fruit on the palate, with notes of cinnamon and grilled meat, excellent weight, a very long and lovely minerally finish with great transparency, and strong but quite refined tannins. The Echézeaux was very seductive, with deep spice on the nose along with a touch of green fruit and clove, and was developing a quite silky texture, along with a long, pure finish despite a still significant level of tannins. La Romanée, as always, was in a class by itself, and even a slight touch of reduction did not prevent one from appreciating the amazing depth and complexity of the nose, the purity of the entry, the grace and power of the mid-palate, or the spicy long finish, with bright fruit and extremely refined tannins. A great wine!

Anne Gros: What to say? Anne Gros is a delightful person and a highly accomplished winemaker with a decade and a half of successes behind her; yet her passion for winemaking seems to have gone south (literally, to her winery in the Minervois), and if the results in the ’09 vintage are not nearly as disappointing as they were in ’07 and ’08, still, they don’t quite reach the heights one knows she is capable of. The wood treatment here seems to have gotten more, rather than less, aggressive, and though the grands crus at least should be able to absorb it, even they (Echézeaux, Clos-de-Vougeot and Richebourg) seem characterized by an over-abundance of sweet fruit, at the expense of balance and transparency.  That said, they are certainly very nice wines and will give lots of pleasure. But greatness? Sadly, no.

Méo-Camuzet: This is another estate that, while capable of making great wines, seems increasingly erratic. To be sure, the best wines are still superb, but whether the expansion into negociant wines has resulted in some loss of focus, or for other reasons, I did not find the level of consistency here that I expected in a vintage of this caliber. One can forgive inconsistency in difficult vintages such as ’07 and ’08, but less easily in ’09. The negociant wines we tasted, Fixin, Morey Village, and Chambolle Feusselottes, were all over-oaked and indifferent, as was the domaine’s Vosne Village. The Vosne Chaumes,  Nuits Meurgers, Clos-de-Vougeot and Corton Perrières were certainly much better, yet even these are a bit too marked by the oak for my taste. Matters got very much better, however, with the Echézeaux, with a spicy deep note of game, mocha and minerals as well as fruit, and a very long finish of high quality with ripe tannins. The Vosne Brulées, always one of my favorite wines here, did not disappoint, with cloves, minerals, mocha and a touch of soy, a silky mouth feel, and a dense finish which, while it did not lack for oak, was very long and showed quite polished tannins. The Cros Parantoux was also exceptional, with the cool fruit and stony quality of this vineyard, an intense and almost brooding wine–unusually for this vintage–with great lift from the acidity, and an elegant yet penetrating finish with lots of spice. The Richebourg as well reflected the greatness this domaine is capable of, with a deep intense nose of mineral, spice, coffee, and morello cherries; on the entry, it was more delicate and graceful than one might expect from Richebourg, but the power showed in the back, with fine but firm tannins and a beautiful minerally finish with red fruit and exceptional length and grace. However, just as I was beginning to doubt my doubts about this estate, we were given two ‘08s to taste, an unpleasant Vosne Village and a Nuits-St.-Georges 1er Cru Aux Argillas, for which I quote my note in its entirety: “What the heck is on the nose? Lighter fluid, I think. Can one die from drinking this?” Fortunately the answer was no, but it still puzzles me how the man who made the ’09 Richebourg (or the utterly brilliant ’99 Richebourg we drank a week earlier) could also have made this—or, having made it, not promptly have sold it for distillation.

Domaine Georges Mugneret-Gibourg: It is perhaps appropriate that the Vosne section of this report is bookended by DRC and by Mugneret-Gibourg: the most renowned estate in Vosne to begin, and the most under-appreciated one to finish.  Here, even the Bourgogne rouge is delicious, with rich, ripe fruit and a mineral streak. The Vosne Village possesses surprising depth and a long spicy finish. Among the premier crus, the Nuits Chaignots had a nose that fairly leapt out of the glass, with spice, earth and perfume; on the palate it had deep red fruit, was earthy and had some strong tannins, overall a lovely wine; and the Chambolle Feusselottes had spicy deep red fruit and a touch of chocolate on the nose, with excellent weight, a rich fruity finish, and amazing length for a premier cru. The Gevrey 1er Cru (the Ruchottes jeunes vignes) was the only disappointment here; to me it seemed a little light, though the concentration on the finish might suggest a better future than I give it credit for. Among the grands crus, the Ruchottes had a complex meaty and spicy nose, with lavender and chocolate hints; on the palate it was spicy, with a delicacy given by the minerality, and high-toned. The Clos-de-Vougeot had a deep nose of red cherries, spice and hints of chocolate and truffles, great density but also excellent balance, ripe red fruit, lovely minerality and some significant but quite ripe tannins. Unusually, however, the Echézeaux, which normally ranks a bit behind the other grands crus here, today provided the most excitement, with a gorgeous mix of spices, earthiness, fruits and chocolate, and a long minerally, spicy finish, but most memorably a combination of drive and energy with perfect harmony and balance—a very elegant wine. This is a vintage that perfectly suits the Mugneret sisters’ style, and the results are a delight.

CÔTE-DE-BEAUNE

Comte Armand: A pleasant enough Volnay Fremiets to begin, after which we tasted three cuvees that will form the Clos-des-Epeneaux (plus the young vine fruit that will go into the Pommard 1er Cru). The resulting blend had multiple additional layers of complexity compared to any of the cuvees, with a great balance of fruit and minerality, and the Pommard dirt; it showed great purity yet power, and a rich spicy and minerally finish, with well-defined tannins and it will with (a lot of) time be a brilliant wine.

Marquis d’Angerville: Stunning wines from Guillaume d’Angerville, possibly the best I have tasted here, though it will make an interesting comparison with 2005. Guillaume himself thinks ’09 is a more subtle, less exuberant vintage than 2005. The Volnay Village begins and in a way defines the range, with a creamy texture, rich fruit and good minerality.  The Volnay ler Cru had a lot of lovely minerality, but was perhaps a bit too marked by the wood at this stage, and the Volnay Clos des Angles was a bit ponderous. The Volnay Fremiets was considerably better, with great structure and plenty of fruit and dense minerality, and the Volnay Caillerets better still, with black cherry, minerals, anise and mocha notes on the nose, very pure and intense, with great fruit expression. The Volnay Taillepieds was a knock-out, higher-toned than the Caillerets, smokier and more minerally; on the palate it was pure, precise and beautifully balanced, with a very long spicy finish and refined tannins. Guillaume commented that he has rarely seen a Taillepieds so expressive at this stage.  My favorite wine here, the Volnay Champans, came next, and it was softer and richer than anything that had come before; with a wonderful velvety texture and great balance and harmony, it seemed to sum up the wines that had preceded it.  The Volnay Clos-des-Ducs was served last, and my colleagues liked it a great deal, but to me, while it was denser and had more tannic structure than the other wines, it seemed more brooding and to me, a touch more ponderous than the others, without the impeccable balance those wines showed currently. Nevertheless, the Ducster is a long distance runner and I would not bet against it.

De Montille: Some very fine reds from de Montille this year, both in the Côtede-Beaune and the Côtede-Nuits. Among the wines I liked were a Beaune Grèves that had a lovely nose of red and black fruit, earth and roast pheasant, though some heaviness on the palate; Volnay Champans, which had an exotic perfumed element but also fine minerality; a Volnay Mitans that was more aggressive and meatier than the Champans but very nice in its own right; and particularly the Volnay Taillepieds, which stood out for its pure minerality and cherry notes on the nose, and floral and licorice notes added on the palate, and especially for its striking length. The Corton Clos-du-Roi was also quite fine, with red fruit and perfume on the nose, a touch of smoky bacon on the palate, good transparency, and a long, elegant finish. Vosne Malconsorts, while a bit reduced, was rich and minerally, intense without being heavy, and quite precise. The best wine, though, was the Vosne Malconsorts Cuvée Christiane. One could almost drink the nose, which showed mineral, spice, perfume and rose petal, as well as sandalwood and game on the palate, with medium body and great transparency, and some power near the back; on the finish, it had fine tannins and was very long, elegant and spicy.

Lafarge: Michel Lafarge has a perspective that extends further back than most of his compatriots, and he offered a comparison of ’09 to a cross between ’64 and ’66, which is high praise indeed. He described the wines of ’09 as full, yet open, forward and generous. His Volnay Vendages Sélectionnés had quite a bit of density for a village wine and a good bit of tannin, yet it remained supple. The Beaune Grèves was a step beyond the Beaune Aigrots (itself a good wine), complex on the palate, tannic and very long, and the Volnay Mitans was quite rich and transparent, though like the de Montille example, it seemed earthy for Volnay. The Volnay Clos-du-Châteaudes-Ducs had minerals, spice and violets, with a long transparent finish and silky if persistent tannins. The Volnay Clos-des-Chênes was very fine, with violets, sweet fruit, minerals and allspice notes, complex yet elegant, and with a transparent finish, and again significant but refined tannins. The Volnay Caillerets was even better, with amazing density and richness, and penetrating minerality, yet remained very balanced, with a long clear minerally finish and the tannins more refined than even the Clos-des-Chênes.

Labet: Francois Labet of Château de la Tour also operates a small domaine, producing mostly wines from the Côtede-Beaune. Among the reds, the Beaune Marconnets stood out, with a mineral-driven nose, red fruit and perfume, and though the fruit seemed a little subdued on the palate, it came through on the finish.

The Négociants:

Before delving into the negociants and their 2009s, an aside on the negociant business as it exists today may be in order.  As the quality and breadth of domaine bottling has increased, several things have happened: first, the external sources of high quality wines for the negociants have been steadily shrinking, as producers have learned they can reap greater financial benefits—if they’re good at what they do—by domaine bottling.  Second, the domaine/negociants (those domaine producers who have established small negociant operations) have been chipping away at the edges of what’s left, whether through purchases or farming agreements, since wine that carries Meo’s label, or Ponsot’s, is likely to be worth more than wine that carries a large negociant’s label. Third, the large and medium sized negociants have responded by expanding their domaine holdings, and so increasingly what one tastes at the premier and grand cru levels, whether at Drouhin or Bouchard or Faiveley or Jadot, is primarily wine from the domaine, even though these houses may still depend for volume and profitability on their lower-level purchased wines. But smaller negociants, who may need to rely on premier and grand cru wines to establish their reputations in the international market place, often lack the reach or financial resources to purchase vineyards, as well as the  infrastructure necessary to enter into farming agreements, and so must rely on the narrowing universe of growers who are conscientious but still not interested in domaine bottling, and on the occasional barrel that a major player decides to sell off to raise cash or to maintain consistency. So while Faiveley, for example, has been aggressively expanding its reach through purchasing vineyards, smaller negociants such as Camille-Giroud or Benjamin Leroux have an uphill struggle to source grapes of the caliber they need (Benjamin Leroux acknowledges as much, and vineyard purchases are very much a part of his thinking for the future).  All this said, a number of significant negociant firms, including several that we do not regularly visit, recognize that to prosper they need to upgrade the quality of their offerings, and are making major efforts in that direction.

Drouhin: While concerns had been expressed in some quarters about the consistency of the Drouhin wines following the retirement of winemaker Laurent Jobard after the 2005 vintage, 2009 is massively successful here for the reds. Even the Savigny Clos des Godeaux is delicious. I also particularly liked the Beaune Grèves, while the Chambolle 1er Cru, which typically provides delicious drinking at a moderate price, was particularly dense for this cuvee and showing lots of rich fruit. Up the ladder, only the Chambolle Amoureuses was not on form this day, having recently been bottled; it seemed a bit animale, but it may just not have recovered its equilibrium.  The Vosne Petits-Monts was predictably excellent, with deep Vosne spice, anise and mocha, cool fruit, lovely balance and silky tannins, and the Grands-Echézeaux, often underrated here, was also particularly fine (and already in bottle), a dense, powerful, but refined wine that will take time to come around. The Clos-de-Vougeot was highly perfumed, with red cherries and spice; it seemed fairly extracted, dense and chocolaty, with fierce but ripe tannins. The Bonnes-Mares was superb, with great volume, excellent balance, and a particularly magnificent finish, with anise and spicebox, driving minerality, power, and exceptional length. The Griottes however gave it a run for its money, with an expressive nose of ripe cherries, smoked meat, mocha, minerals and spice; it had great density, a lot of drive on the finish, and silky and refined tannins.  And then there was the Musigny, which I can still taste as I write this a week later: an incredible classic Musigny nose, with red fruit, spicebox, and an orange top note; great balance and breadth, spice, soy, a touch of roast duck, it almost danced on the palate, before devolving to a minerally, spicy, citrus finish and incredibly refined tannins—and almost endless length. It is a totally brilliant wine that will take its place among the very best of this vintage. And if you are lucky enough to find some, please remember who tipped you off!

Faiveley: Under the direction of Bernard Hervet, the wines here have achieved new dimensions: not only because the serious mistakes of the past 30 or so years have been corrected, but because the wines have taken a different and more refined direction from that of the monuments of Faiveley’s past, which typically were wines of richness and power, but sometimes also rusticity, that could take  30-50 years to come around. The Nuits 1er Crus were all quite nice, the best being the Les St.-Georges, with lovely raspberry and cherry fruit, excellent minerality, good balance, and quite sophisticated tannins for Nuits. The Gevrey Cazetiers was also excellent, showing more grace than this wine typically does. Among the grands crus, while the Echézeaux seemed a bit light and uninteresting, the Clos-de-Vougeot was excellent, with the density, strong tannins and muscularity this climat seems to possess in abundance in this vintage, but also a great finish. Latricières-Chambertin was an elegant wine, and the Mazis even better, a meaty rich wine with power and length. The Corton Clos des Cortons seemed remarkably elegant for this wine, with sweet morello cherries, spice and a touch of bacon, as well as minerality; Bernard thinks it is Faiveley’s best Clos des Cortons since the ’59. But it was the Clos-de-Bèze that showed the best today (the Musigny, though we were privileged to taste it given the minuscule production, seemed a little in shock and not forthcoming). The Bèze had a nose with characteristic notes of spice, as well as grilled meat, minerals, and mocha; on the palate it was deeply minerally and transparent, with accents of black cherry, coffee, raspberries and meat, and suave tannins on the long finish.

Camille-Giroud: I am a great fan of winemaker David Croix, who is a serious craftsman.  As discussed above, the position of the small negociant dedicated to quality is not an easy one. Yet if the task is difficult, it is far from hopeless, as the quality of the Camille-Giroud wines attests. Even among the lesser-known appellations, there are some excellent wines here, including a very nice Santenay 1er Cru Clos Rousseau and an even better Savigny Les Peuillets. At the upper levels, the Corton Rognets showed very well, a balanced wine with nice minerality, great length and silky tannins, as did the pure and expressive Latricieres-Chambertin,  and especially the Chambertin, a wine of power and balance, with great energy and a long pure finish.

Benjamin Leroux: Some very fine reds here, though a little bit of unevenness. Among the 1er Crus, there was a very nice Volnay Clos-de-la-Cave-des-Ducs and a particularly good Nuits Aux Thoreys, with rich sweet fruit and more refinement than I usually find in Nuits (I seem to be writing that a lot in this vintage). The Corton Cuvée Dr. Peste, an Hospices wine owned by the NY Sous-Commanderie of the Chevaliers du Tastevin for which Benjamin is doing the elevage, had deep rich fruit, spice and minerals on the nose, as well as a touch of the Hospices oak; on the palate it was rich and powerful, with spicy oak and a touch of smoked bacon; the finish displayed a deep minerality and was very long, with the tannins taking on a silky quality.  The Mazoyères-Chambertin had almost plummy fruit, yet retained good acidity—a seductive wine.  The Clos-St.-Denis had very dense small berry fruit on the nose, with still more rich fruit on the palate, and it was balanced, elegant and, again, seductive.

Jadot: For me, the Jadot wines have always seemed to be well-made, commercial wines that rarely sing. If I was never as negative on these wines as some, including one otherwise respected critic, neither have I undergone the blinding conversion on the road to Damascus (or was it the route de Savigny?) of that same critic. That said, there are certainly some great successes among the ’09 reds, especially in the Gevrey premier and grands crus. Fortunately the tasting was less of a marathon than in prior years, and we “limited” ourselves to about two dozen reds and a slightly smaller number of whites.  Among the reds there were a number that I thought were very good though not outstanding, including the Corton-Grèves, the Chambolle Amoureuses (a very nice wine though it frankly lacks the refinement of Mugnier’s or Roumier’s), the Bonnes-Mares, a heavyweight wine with a great deal of material even if it seemed to lack a little precision (but possessed more than the Musigny), the Vosne Beaumonts, and the Grands-Echézeaux, a rich, heavy wine that had a lot to offer but more in the way of power than grace. More satisfying were two of the Gevrey 1er Crus: a Lavaux-St.-Jacques with spicy grilled meat overtones, cool fruit and a long transparent minerally finish; and a Clos-St.-Jacques that was very transparent, with lovely weight and balance, and a lot of finesse; while the entry to the finish seemed a bit meaty, the tannins were ripe and fine and the finish very persistent. Among the grands crus, both Chapelle and Mazis were excellent, and the Latricières even better, with discreet but penetrating minerality on the nose, good transparency, notes of grilled meat, spice and mocha, and a great spicy finish with refined tannins. The Clos-de-Bèze topped this range, with elegant spice and red fruit on the nose, along with hints of grilled meat; on the palate it had lovely penetration and was well balanced, with only the barest hint of heaviness in the middle, and on the finish it had drive, length, and very firm but fine tannins.

Bouchard: A mixed bag, with some wines suffering from overbearing oak treatment and others from over-extraction. That said, there was still a great deal to like here, including a charming Savigny Les Lavières; a Beaune Grèves Enfant Jesus that will be quite nice providing the wood integrates; an excellent Volnay Caillerets Cuvée Carnot, which was complex and elegant, though here too there was more new oak (80%) than I would like to see; a full-bodied, rich Nuits Les Porrets Saint-Georges, less rustic than it can be;  a rich and open Gevrey Cazetiers; and a very intense Vosne Beaumonts, with dry tannins that will take a while to resolve.  The Clos-de-Vougeot had a lot to it, with good minerality and ripe fruit, and a lovely transparent finish, and the Bonnes-Mares, despite a lot of reduction, seemed to have some real elegance. The Chapelle-Chambertin, from purchased grapes, was really fine, and outshone the powerful Bèze from the same source, with elegant fruit, a creamy texture, good spice, and a nice sense of restraint.

WHITES

Côte de Beaune:

Leflaive: Not surprisingly, some of the best ’09 whites we tasted. The Puligny 1er Cru Climats du Coeur was beginning to round out nicely, with white flowers, minerals and spice on the nose, a citrus note and a lovely finish.  Among the domaine wines, the Puligny Combettes was particularly attractive, with a very minerally expression on the nose, plus fruits confits and a touch of lemon cream; on the palate it was stony and very pure, with good tension and density. The Puligny Pucelles was even better, with real delicacy on a palate characterized by minerals, spice, lemon and a touch of anise, and was very long, precise and elegant. The Bienvenues-Bâtard and the Bâtard seemed to have changed places this year (or at least at the moment), with the Bienvenues being the more powerful, dense and four-square of the two, and the Bâtard being more expressive and accessible, with more flesh but also power and precision, and a lovely white flower finish with a kiss of minerality.  The Chevalier was everything one could ask of this wine, elegant, pure, balanced, still holding back a bit, but long and with great tension on the finish.

Latour-Giraud: Jean-Pierre Latour prefers ’08 to ’09, though he thinks the press and many consumers will flock to the ’09s. His ’08s are discussed in Part 2. In ’09, the wines are quite good, including a Meursault Narvaux that has kept its freshness even if it could use a tad more fruit, though Jean-Pierre said he expected to see more generosity in the wine by the time it is bottled. The Genevrières and Perrières were both very fine, the former with notes of anise, pears, spice and orange, and a floral component emerging, and the latter, surprisingly, even more floral, and rounder, but with a long minerally finish. By far the most outstanding wine, though, was the Meursault Genevrières Cuvée des Pierre, from 55 year old vines, which had a gorgeous nose of juniper, anise, minerals and white flowers; on the palate it had great minerality, spice, and floral notes, and was balanced, deep and intense, with a long minerally finish.

Roulot: Jean-Marc Roulot said he had deliberately picked quite early in ’09, and it seems to have paid off. He is justifiably pleased with his ‘09s. Among the Village lieux-dits, the Meursault Luchets stood out for its balance and tension, and the Meursault Tillets was also very attractive, a kind of high-wire act with dense minerals and honeysuckle on the nose, a lot of fruit but also excellent tension. Even better was the Meursault Tessons Clos de Mon Plaisir, which was more fleshy and rich than the Tillets,  but still had fine balance, with a finish of excellent weight and great persistence. Jean-Marc said he found Tillets more minerally, marked by its length, while the Tessons was a rounder, more classic Meursault.  We then tasted the fourth Climats du Coeur wine, the Meursault 1er Cru. The nose showed spice, honeysuckle and anise, and on the palate it was quite round and ripe, with tree fruit notes, anise, citrus and some smoke. It is a wine that will give a good deal of pleasure. Among the Domaine’s own premier crus, the Meursault Charmes stood out, with a calm, discreet nose that draws you in, pear spice and minerals; on the palate, notwithstanding a strong fruit component, it remains well balanced, with a spicy slightly dry finish. The Meursault Perrières was even better: despite a nose that said “go away and don’t come back for several years,” it proved to be a mineral-driven wine with power, excellent tension and balance, and a long and elegant finish—a wine of great precision.

Bernard Moreau: Some nice wines in ’09, though I preferred his ’08s. There is clear terroir delineation in these wines, but also a good bit of variation in the ultimate quality. The Chassagne Maltroie had a fair amount of puppy fat and a complex finish, and will be a crowd-pleaser, but the Chassagne Vergers was more serious, with a lot of minerality underpinned by honey and white flowers, plenty of power for a 1er cru, and a long, consistent, gingery finish. The Chassagne Chenevottes also showed well, with an understated minerality, a flinty note, citrus and a bit of creamed corn, plus a ginger note on the finish; overall, it showed very good tensile strength.  The Grands-Ruchottes, normally the top wine here, was a bit of a puzzle: it had the best “line” of any of Moreau’s ’09s, with real balance and delicacy on the nose, plus racy acidity and good tension, but there was a bubblegum note on the palate that I found troublesome. The Bâtard was first-rate, with a calm spicy minerally nose followed by a driving, intense palate–a tightly-wound, very young wine with lots of dry extract and great balance. Good luck, though, in finding any—there is one barrel of it.

Paul Pillot: Young winemaker Thierry Pillot is serious and ambitious. He was among those who started picking on the early side in the ’09 vintage, in an effort to preserve the freshness in the wines.  The results, however, are mixed, as I found the lower level wines here, particularly the St. Aubins, to be a bit thin. The top Chassagnes, however, showed much better, with a Grands-Ruchottes that was lighter weight but quite fresh, and had an intense finish of anise, lemon, spice and minerals. Better still was the Caillerets, with a lot more density and a creamy citric texture as well as pear fruit, hints of anise and mint, and a nice spicy finish. As usual, though, La Romanée topped its stable mates, with excellent balance, lots of minerals and spice, some floral notes, hints of strawberry and lemon, good tension and a very long finish.

Bouchard: Bouchard did an excellent job with their ’09 whites. The Meursaults were an interesting study in contrasts, with the Genevrières, often my favorite here, being my least favorite today, showing too much sweetness for my taste despite its strong minerality; the Gouttes d’Or showing much better balance but still a touch of sweetness, and a bit of hardness at the end; the Charmes, less rich and more minerally than the Gouttes d’Or with an excellent white flower and spice finish and a fair amount of power, was a wine that needed some time; while the Perrières was the best by far, with floral, mineral, clove and honey notes on the nose, real richness in the mid-palate and a long minerally transparent finish that moved to white flowers at the end. The Corton-Charlemagne and the regular Chevalier-Montrachet were not showing especially well on this day, but the Chevalier La Cabotte was first-rate, with white flowers, minerals and smoke, great balance and tensile strength, apricots and other sweet fruit, and a long finish where the minerality clearly dominated the fruit. The Montrachet was an aristocratic wine, with a discreet nose, sweet fruit and honey notes, white flowers, and minerals; it had impressive length and transparency, and remained powerful yet restrained—a very fine Montrachet.

Benjamin Leroux: Some good whites here, including a St Aubin 1er Cru Les Meurgers-des-Dents-de-Chien, with medium weight and nice high-toned minerality; a charming Meursault Vireuils; a Meursault Narvaux with more depth than the Vireuils, plenty of sweet fruit and a strong balancing minerality; a Meursault Poruzots Dessus which had a lot of fat but just kept from being blowsy;  and a Puligny-Montrachet Les Trézins, which showed a lot of depth for a village wine. Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru La Tête du Clos is a wine that is usually sold under the better-known Morgeot appellation but that is increasingly being seen separately; Benjamin thinks that, with Chassagne La Romanée, it is the finest appellation of this village. His example was quite nice, if a bit of a crowd-pleaser with its rich fruit and long spicy finish, though there was a hint of slight bitterness in the tail. I liked his Chassagne Embrazées better, with a lovely nose and great balance, and development still to come. This was followed by an elegant Bâtard, with beautiful white flowers and minerals on the nose, and everything in balance on the medium-bodied palate, good spice and charm, though here too there was a hint of bitterness in the tail that may get resolved—time will tell.

Château de Puligny-Montrachet/Domaine de Montille: Overall, a disappointing range of wines at Ch. de Puligny, and it felt a little bit as though, in an effort to avoid the blowsiness of the vintage, these wines had ended up being too lean.   Only the Chevalier-Montrachet showed real promise.  The Domaine de Montille whites were much better, with a good Corton-Charlemagne and a really fine Puligny Caillerets: stony, with an orange note, minerals and a touch of honey, a nicely balanced wine.

Drouhin: The whites here do not transcend the vintage. The Puligny and Chassagne Village wines had some fat rich fruit and will be appealing young, as will the Puligny Folatières, a charming but not complex wine.  The Chassagne Morgeots Marquis de Laguiche had more depth, though it seemed slightly dry at the finish, while the Beaune Clos des Mouches was a soft style of this wine but lovely, elegant and harmonious, with enough tannins to keep it from falling apart early. The Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche was a different story, having a nose of anise, minerals and a hint of honey, all of which came through on the palate and slowly expanded in the mouth—a wine with excellent presence and balance if still a little closed. Even if it may not rank among the very best vintages of this wine, it will nonetheless be delicious to drink.

Faiveley: Here too the whites were not close in quality to the reds. Several of the wines did not really seem fully integrated, including the Bâtard and Bienvenues. Among the better examples were a Puligny Referts that had lovely fruit, spice and minerals, though it seemed a little earthbound, and the Corton-Charlemagne, with a touch of oyster shell on the nose, and ripe peaches, leading to strong minerally acidity on the palate, excellent spice, medium weight and a long, generous finish.

Camille-Giroud: Another nice example of Chassagne Tête du Clos, with good density, and very minerally, though it seemed a touch lean at the moment. The Puligny Champs-Gain was excellent, however, with lemon cream and spice notes, and excellent purity and focus. The Corton-Charlemagne had just been racked and was not fully recovered, but showed some good promise.

Jadot: The theme (better reds than whites) continues here, despite some successes. The Meursaults were uniformly disappointing, though there were some good wines among the Chassagnes and Pulignys, including a Chassagne Morgeots Domaine Jadot, a bit plush but with nice minerality, for early drinking, and a Chassagne Morgeots Duc de Magenta, more focused than the prior wine, with more depth and complexity, and some tannins that will keep it going; a plausible Puligny Villages; a Puligny Referts that seemed a bit tense at first but then opened a bit, with a complex back palate and finish; and a lovely Puligny Combettes, with spice, minerals, citrus, cloves and flowers on the nose, and a palate that seemed soft and fat at first but that had some tension behind it, and with a touch of golden raspberries. The Puligny Clos de la Garenne, often among the best 1er cru whites here, seemed to lack balance and grip in ’09. The Bienvenues-Bâtard, with a sweet lemon cream nose, and pears, minerals and spice on the palate, was well balanced and complete, and outshone the Batard, which was suffering from some reduction on this day. The Chevalier Demoiselles was a very fine example of this wine, with a subdued nose with hints of white flowers and spice, and on the palate, honeysuckle, golden raspberries and minerals, plus a touch of the new oak—overall, it was a very graceful, balanced wine, still a little tight but with excellent promise.  Le Montrachet also showed well, and was more open than the Demoiselles, with pears, light red fruit, spice, minerals, honey, beeswax and anise; it seemed a lighter-style (but not light) Monty, with an incredibly sneaky finish that had delicacy and immense length.

Lafarge: The Meursaults were not particularly interesting, but Lafarge did make a very nice Beaune Les Aigrots, with excellent minerality, white flowers, allspice and honey, a very pleasant and seldom-seen wine.

Lambrays: Two wines from great vineyards in Puligny, the Folatières and Clos du Caillerets, that fully reflected the vintage, with lots of sweet fruit, pleasing wines that lacked the balance they would need to carry them forward. Both had already been in bottle for a month when we saw them.

Miscellaneous Côte de Beaune Whites and a few from the Côte de Nuits: Among the other whites tasted, the best was Christophe Roumier’s ’09 Corton-Charlemagne. While this wine is not always as transcendent as vineyard and producer would lead one to expect, the ’09 showed quite well and had a terrific creamy finish, with great penetration and length. Bruno Clair’s Corton-Charlemagne was a bit fat, though I liked his Morey-St.-Denis En la rue de Vergy, which had some nice fruit and freshness–an interesting curiosity. Mugnier’s Clos de la Maréchale Blanc is also a curiosity, if, in 2009, a decidedly more overripe and less interesting one.

Chablis:

As in the Cote de Beaune, 2009 is a decidedly less interesting vintage in Chablis than 2008. As several producers remarked, these are Chablis for Chardonnay lovers, not for Chablis lovers. That said, there are certainly some very nice wines among the ’09s.

Vincent Dauvissat: Vincent Dauvissat was in a curious mood the day we tasted, seeming distracted and disengaged. The ’09s he showed us were in bottles that had been open for 5 to 6 days, which made the tasting a bit difficult. Also, we were paired on this morning visit with a trio of chefs from a nearby restaurant whose preparation for their lunch service appeared to consist of guzzling everything they were given to taste. Nevertheless, some of the wines showed well, including a very good everyday village Chablis; a 1er cru Vaillons, with a touch of licorice on the nose as well as minerality, excellent balance and purity and a spicy citrus and ginger finish; Les Preuses, which had penetrating spice and minerality and good tensile strength, as well as green apples and chalk on the finish; and Les Clos, with a subdued spicy nose, white flowers and minerals on the palate, and a lot of pain d’épice on the finish. The wine seemed as though it could use more fruit, but that may well have been a question of how long it had been open. ’09 reminds Dauvissat of ’89, and he opened a bottle of ’89 Les Preuses, with a complex nose of apricot, pain d’épice, almonds and spiced pears; on the palate it had very good minerality, and finished with gunpowder, Asian pears, cinnamon and clove (91).

Christian Moreau: Moreau began picking his ’09s on October 1st, and all the wines we saw had been bottled by September 2010. This was not an exciting range of wines, though I did like the Chablis Vaillons Cuvée Guy Moreau, a separate cuvee of this wine from vines planed in 1933, which was much more complex and better balanced than the regular cuvee, with good mineral expression and a long finish, and also liked Les Clos–though the nose was closed and the wine quite firm on the palate, there was good minerality, excellent balance and an expressive floral component. Better ’08s.

Fèvre: Régisseur Didier Séguier noted that Fevre had picked earlier than most others to maintain the acidity levels in the wine, and that decision clearly was a good one, as the range of wines here was better than most we saw. The Chablis Village was soft, easy and pleasant; among the premier crus, Vaillons and Les Lys (from a vineyard within Vaillons) were both good, as was the Montmains, a crowd pleaser if carrying a touch too much sweet fruit for me, and possibly the Montée de Tonnerre, which had richness, power and length but did not seem totally knit at the moment. Better still were the Fourchaume, very floral with a minerally underpinning, and needing a bit of time, and the Vaulorent, much steelier than the Fourchaume, powerful yet still light on its feet. Among the Grands Crus, the Bougros was rich and sweet (Séguier called it Chablis Grand Cru for those who don’t like minerality and acidity) and a Vaudésir which was full and round but also a bit non-traditional for Chablis. The Bougros (Cote de Bouguerots), from the part of the vineyard that is on the slope, facing south, was much more powerful than any of its counterparts, and while I did not find it particularly elegant, it was hard to ignore its power and intensity. The Valmur, by contrast, with its restrained nose of chalk, white flowers and gingerbread, was racy and had excellent minerality and cut, and a long rich spicy finish. Les Clos, while served last, was not my favorite, with a brioche nose, and a rounder, fuller texture—it could be a very fine wine, but has not entirely pulled itself together yet. I much preferred Les Preuses, with its floral and gunflint notes, great purity and balance in the mid-palate, a touch of sucrosity in back, and a nicely balanced floral and minerally finish. Certainly these are among the better ’09s, but as the reviews in Part 2 of this report reflect, the ’08s are better still.

Drouhin: Not particularly compelling Chablis in ’09, though pleasant enough.

Faiveley: In my view, Faiveley achieved more consistent quality in its ’09 Chablis than in its Cote de Beaune whites, though the Chablis are still very much children of the vintage. Les Preuses had a bit of puppy fat but still some nice minerality—a lovely Chablis for Chardonnay lovers. The Vaudesir was more seriously minerally than Les Preuses, with more depth but still some fat to round it out, while Les Clos had a minerally nose of excellent purity, with pain d’épice and licorice, and overall it had some fat but a lot of power and richness, and while not as easy as Vaudésir had a lot to it.

© Douglas E. Barzelay 2010

A Tale of Two Vintages—1990 Red Burgundies at Age 20

From its early days, the 1990 vintage in Burgundy was hailed as a very great vintage, with the potential
to become the finest vintage since perhaps 1959. The summer had been quite hot and dry, enough to
retard maturation, but significant rain at the end of August and in early September restarted development
and after three weeks of warm weather a large crop was harvested beginning in late September. In their
youth, the reds seemed to be bursting with ripe fruit, and to have a depth and intensity that certainly had
not been seen in Burgundy in quite some years. Yet as these wines began to reach adolescence, troubling
signs emerged. The flavors often seemed baked, and increasingly one began to see wines whose fruit
was drying up, leaving behind an empty shell. However, other wines remained youthful and bright,
seeming to retain their early promise. Clearly, as the wines approached twenty years of age, it was a
good time to assess the vintage. At a tasting held in Connecticut March 27-28, 2010, organized by Bob
Feinn and benignly presided over by the buddha of Burgundy, Clive Coates, we sampled approximately
60 reds from 1990, in three sessions (we also tasted half a dozen whites; more about these later).

The first session included about a dozen wines from the Cote de Beaune, beginning with the Santenay
Clos Tavannes of Pousse d’Or and including three Volnay 1er Crus from Hubert de Montille, Beaune
Clos des Mouches from Drouhin, Pommard Grand Clos des Epenots from Courcel and Clos des
Epeneaux from Comte Armand, and Corton Clos des Cortons from Faiveley. The dominant impression
from all of these wines was of baked fruit, and a distressing lack of balance, with several beginning to
show oxidative notes and others, most notably the Volnay Champans from de Montille, still retaining
aggressive tannins. Most merited scores in the low 80s. Even the Lafarge Volnay Clos des Chenes, while
showing some finesse, seemed to be beginning to dry out (89). The situation improved, but only slightly,
when we arrived at the wines of the Cote de Nuits, with a pleasant if undistinguished Morey-St.-Denis
En La Rue de Vergy from Bruno Clair (accompanied by a curious, almost non-Burgundian version from
Henri Perrot-Minot), and a more nuanced Morey-St.-Denis 1er Cru Vielles Vignes from Hubert Lignier,
which has some nice old vines complexity, though it seemed lighter and less interesting than it was 5+
years ago. A Nuits-St.-Georges Aux Meurgers from Meo-Camuzet displayed the virtues and flaws that
seem to run through all the Meo 1990’s (including the Cros Parantoux, tasted two weeks earlier), with
good depth of fruit and complexity being marred by an inexperienced oak regimen that obtrudes on the
finish. Only a poised and nuanced Nuits-St.-Georges Les St. Georges from Gouges broke the spell, with
excellent balance, sweet, unbaked fruit, earth and mineral tones, and a long, if slightly hot, finish (92).

For the second session, we began with the Vosne premier crus, and while the problems were more
varied in nature, things were not necessarily looking up. A Chaumes from Jean Tardy was heavy and
ponderous, with too much rustic tannin (85), while the Clos des Reas from Jean Gros had almost dirty
off-notes (several people noted that the same was true of a bottle in the Clos des Reas tasting the prior
week). The Hudelot Malconsorts, like all of the Hudelot 1990s, began with a fair amount of barnyard and
an almost soupy quality, and then transitioned to something that was sweet and easy, pleasant but no more
(88), while the Meo Brulees, which had a lot going for it in terms of black fruit, minerals and balance,
again was dominated on the finish by the oak (88). A flight of Clos Vougeots raised the bar only slightly,
with the Rion, despite some attractive qualities, typically soupy and with enough finishing oak to make
the Meo look restrained (87), a good but not profound Arnoux, which had nice clarity and minerality
but a touch of heat and burnt fruit at the end (89), an Anne & Francois Gros Grand Maupertuis that was
powerful, with rich cherries and plums, though the oak up front and heat on the finish troubled me (88),

a Faiveley that showed a remarkable lack of fruit given the vintage, dried underbrush notes, and raspy
tannins (82), and a Hudelot-Noellat that resembled the Malconsorts in being sweet and easy, slightly
more weighty though with less minerality than its premier cru cousin (87). Among the Clos Vougeots, the
best for me was the Musigni of Gros Frere et Soeur—with good minerality, a gamy note, medium body,
excellent balance and a sweet fruit finish (91). (Clive Coates noted that these vines were still relatively
young in 1990.) Two Romanee St. Vivants followed: a Confuron which despite some silkiness had too
much toasty oak and not very refined tannins for an RSV (86), and a very good Jadot, with a nose of
refined Asian spice, excellent power and presence, and only some slightly rough tannins detracting a bit
from the overall positive impression (90).

It was with the next flight, however, that we really began to see the “other” 1990 vintage emerge. Finally
we saw wines that reflected the full potential of the vintage, and it was a remarkable potential indeed.
The most outstanding of seven Richebourgs was clearly the Jean Gros, with a deep nose of smoke,
spice, black fruit and game; on the palate it was both intense and refined, with a very long minerally
finish (96). Indeed, if any appellation seems to evoke the spirit of this vintage, it is Richebourg, with
its predisposition to power and density allied to finesse. The Gros Frere & Soeur was also quite good,
showing that density and power, with refined tannins on the finish (93). The Hudelot-Noellat was again
a bit too easy but its appealing sweet fruit and charm were hard to resist totally (90), while the Leroy was
still young, and a bit idiosyncratic—more Leroy than Richebourg, one felt—but complex, with notes of
cinnamon, gingerbread, and gooseberry (!), and quite powerful (91+). (A bottle from Anne-Francoise
Gros, though the same wine as the Jean Gros, was distinctly different in both color and flavor profile (87);
bottles from Grivot and Thibault Liger-Belair were clearly off-kilter (NR)).

Building from strength to strength, the next up was La Romanee (Bouchard P&F bottling), which had
a distinct aroma of violets, spice and game; though to the nit-picky (moi?) it was a bit burly for La
Romanee and carrying a bit too much new oak, it was nevertheless a triumph of vineyard and vintage
over indifferent winemaking (92). The La Tache was in another realm; while it remains stubbornly
youthful, it is also full of promise, with a nose of intense Asian spice, violets and what Aubert de Villaine
calls the “touch of green” that turns eventually to rose petal; on the palate it had wonderful sweet silky
fruit, great power and highly refined tannins, and after a half hour in the glass, the glorious “peacock’s
tail” finish emerged (96+). We then finished the evening, perhaps a little idiosyncratically, with two
Musignys. The first, from Drouhin, while still evolving and carrying a fair amount of tannin, was
becoming silky and elegant, a wine of great charm and breed, with a long transparent finish (94). Last
came the de Vogue, a controversial wine whose last credible defender, Clive Coates, was there to present
the defense. This wine, which Clive said was, out of barrel, the best young Burgundy he had ever tasted
(and indeed I felt similarly when I tasted the wine newly arrived in bottle), seemed to me—among many
others, most notably Burghound–to be coming apart by the turn of the millennium, with drying fruit and
screechy tannins. Yet Clive has maintained that the problem was one of the “American stock” of this
wine—that something had happened in the shipping process, and that bottles in France, acquired from
the Domaine, showed no such problems. To make his point, Clive provided a bottle from his own stock.
While this was in relative terms fresher than any bottle I have had in a long time, it still showed signs of
losing its fruit and had a raspy tannic finish, suggesting that this bottle was merely a few years behind
in its (negative) development, rather than being different in kind to the “American stock.” Even Clive
acknowledged that this bottle had not showed as he hoped, and doubt seemed to be creeping in—at least
for the moment.

The third session proved something of an anti-climax, though with five Rousseaus in prospect, it should

have been more than that. In brief, there were a number of wines from both the “good” and “bad” 1990
vintages, as well as a number that simply failed to show well, or reflected poor winemaking. Among
the wines that showed well were the Drouhin Chambertin, with lovely meat, smoke, spice, lavender and
licorice, impeccable balance and a silky texture (96), Roumier Bonnes Mares, showing more density
than most examples I have had of this (93), and a first-rate Griottes-Chambertin from Ponsot, now
developing a great silky texture despite still carrying a fair amount of tannin (93+). Also showing well
were the Ruchottes-Chambertin from Dr. Georges Mugneret, with characteristic meatiness, excellent
weight and power, though not an especially elegant wine, and one that still needs time (91), and both
the Mazy-Chambertin (90+) and Clos de la Roche (91) from Rousseau, as well as a Drouhin Bonnes
Mares that, while still good, had seemed more compelling earlier in the decade (90). Sadly, especially
given the performance of the “lesser” Rousseaus, neither the Chambertin nor the Clos de Beze was in
form: both seemed reduced, though I’m not sure why that would be, and though they showed elements
of greatness, neither of these bottles was what it should have been (at the Chambertin/Beze retrospective
in 2002, both showed quite well, meriting 94 and 93+ scores). Other bottles worth mentioning included
the Rousseau Ruchottes, which was a bit on the barnyard side (89), its showing consistent with most prior
tastings of this wine; and the Vogue Bonnes Mares, from “American stock” and showing about the same
level of negative development as the Musigny (88). The Faiveley Gevrey Cazetiers and Clos de Beze
were both disappointing, as was a Bouchard Chambertin, but all seemed to suffer more from indifferent
winemaking and sloppy oak treatment than from the vintage, and a Dujac Gevrey Combottes was pleasant
but anonymous (87). A Remoissenet Charmes-Chambertin is best passed over in silence.

A few brief words on the whites: we only had 6, not enough to be a representative sample (and of these,
one was corked), yet they ran a considerable gamut: a dead bottle of Latour Chevalier-Montrachet Les
Demoiselles (no surprise there), an aging but still aggressive and idiosyncratic Lafon Meursault Charmes,
a youthful but slight bottle of Leflaive Puligny Pucelles, a delicious bottle of de Vogue Musigny Blanc,
beautifully reflecting the unusual terroir of this wine (92), and a really fine bottle of Bienvenues-Batard-
Montrachet from Ramonet, showing perhaps more power than usual for this vineyard, a classic Ramonet
flavor profile, a good deal of intensity and great persistence (93).

In sum, the best reds have rich, ripe fruit, complexity, density and balance, and at age 20 are now just
beginning to develop a silkiness that should become more pronounced as time passes, and they possess
the tannin and acid structure to age and develop for a considerable period to come. Though this is not a
particularly terroir-driven vintage, the terroir is not invisible, and certain terroirs (Richebourg) seem more
in sync with the vintage than others (Volnay). But the vintage clearly had its problems, and as noted
above many of the wines are unbalanced, with baked flavors and aromas, drying fruit, and the beginnings
of oxidative notes. What happened? Allen Meadows offers the best perspective, noting that the cessation
of progress toward full maturity as a result of the summer’s heat, coupled with generally quite high yields,
often did not allow for fully ripe phenolics despite producing aromas that were initially suggestive of
full ripeness. Also, one needs to remember that in 1990, Burgundy was in transition: for example, as
Clive Coates notes in his book, canopy management, which would have been helpful in a vintage such as
this, was as yet poorly understood, and there was less pruning to lower yields than is the case today. In
addition, while most of the then-top producers were represented in this tasting (a significant exception
was Henri Jayer, whose Cros Parantoux, tasted two weeks earlier, was stunningly pure and elegant (96)
), among those producers, several–including Meo, Hudelot-Noellat, Arnoux and Grivot (and to an extent
Georges Mugneret), as well as Faiveley and Bouchard among the negociants–were not producing wines
of nearly the caliber that they are today. Thus, between the problems the vintage turned out to present,

and the smaller number of producers at the top of their game, it is not so easy to find wines that express
the full potential of this vintage, and there is probably less great wine than one would see were there to be
a comparable vintage today. Nevertheless, the best of them are truly superb, and it is certainly reasonable
to believe that they will continue to develop well.

© 2010 Douglas E. Barzelay