Oeno-File, the Wine & Gastronomy Column

by Frank Ward

A taste of Burgundy – Part I

August 2011. The Pinot Noir of Burgundy is the world’s most delicate red variety. In poor years it fails to achieve complete ripeness and can give thin, acidic wines. ln excessively hot years it can also yield unsatisfactory results. When grapes approach or attain overripeness the resultant wine is heavy and disagreeably jammy.

The Pinot’s renowned finesse and delicacy are then in abeyance.

The 2009 vintage in Burgundy was of the hot kind, with fruit sometimes maturing so quickly that overrlpeness was almost inevitable. The best wines were made by those who foresaw this problem, and picked early. They did this, not to obtain tart, immature grapes but rather fruit that, while wholly mature, retained a perfect definition of Pinot Noir finesse, with just the right kind of vibrant acidity that gives precision and tension.

One property which seized finesse from the very jaws of imballance in 2009 is Domaine Armand Rousseau in Gevrey Chambertin. Eric Rousseau, who has been making the wines since 1982, says:

“We look for elegance, purity, and finesse, never extreme extraction. Balance is the key. If it looks as if the grapes will lack acidity, we’lI pick earlier, when acidity levels are still good… Wines that are over-extracted lack balance. They might be good to drink young but they don’t last. When it’s overripe, the Pinot Noir loses its freshness, subtlety, and finesse.”

Aware of the dangers inherent in the hot 2009 vintage, the Domaine picked very early, at the end of August. Tasting those wines last year, I was able to see that their approach had been the right one (see Oeno-File, “Burgundy Interlude, July 2010).

Eric Rousseau is a friendly, soft-spoken man who bears a marked resemblance to his father Charles – whom I met for the first time decades ago, when he was roughly Eric’s present age. He has a gentle sense of humour and gives an impression of quiet resolution. The talk, as it will do, turns to other vintages. Eric believes that 2008 is underestimated while 2009 may well be overestimated. “Maybe ’08 is along similar lines to ’96. Certainly the analyses for both are the same.”

I make the point ‘that wines from great vineyards can tend to correct their defaults when ageing. Those that start out on the heavy side usually slim down over the years while those that start out Iight take on body as they mature. This seems to strike a chord, for Eric quickly points out that the 2003s, which he didn’t Iike initially, have developed surprisingly well, and that a much older year Iike 1988 – which had a harsh, grating quality for years – is starting to drink beautifully. Even the difficult ’83 vintage had improved greatly. We also agree that the underestimated ’91 vintage has turned out to be exceptional.

I am given a tasting of some of the 2010s by Fred, the estate manager, who shows the same devotion to the wines as a top trainer to a stable of crack racehorses. Needless to say, all the wines are still in barrel and several have not yet completed the malolactic fermentation.

2010 GEVREY CHAMBERTIN 1ER CRU LAVAUX SAINT JACQUES ***

This has a lovely round, expressive scent of crushed raspberry, cherry, and (more fugitive) blackcurrant. On the palate, masses of clean-cut Pinot Noir fruit and a long mineral aftertaste. To enjoy around 2016-22.

2010 CHARMES CHAMBERTIN ***(*)

Charmes is often the most precocious of Gevrey’s nine Grands Crus – but it is a Grand Cru. It’s not surprising, then, that it has an altogether more complex, masterly aroma than the previous wine. Its promise of velvety texture is fulfilled on the palate, which is both intense and long. The plum and cherry finish is satisfyingly mineral.

2010 CLOS DE LA ROCHE ****

The nose is more aerial without loss of CdelaR’s archetypical steeliness of structure. The aromas are very different from those of the Charmes, more Iike those of another Grand Cru, Echézeaux. I’m reminded of wild cherry, raspberry, and orange peel. The sinewy flavour is expansive – there’s a springiness to it – and the aftertaste harmonious, despite some residual malic acid. This is the only Rousseau wine from another commune (next-door Morey Saint Denis).

2010 GEVREY CHAMBERTIN 1ER CRU CLOS SAINT JACQUES ****

Though very closed up, with fugitive hints of sulphur and toasty oak (these will be digested), this is unmistakeably a great wine, and one easily detects the massive concentration of fruit, which positively leaps out of the glass. Easily the most voluminous wine so far, it is crammed with rich, harmonious Pinot Noir flavours and is extremely long.

Though Clos Saint Jacques is officially classed as a Premier Cru few would challenge its status as de facto Grand Cru.

2010 CHAMBERTIN CLOS DE BEZE ****(*)

The lovely deep-scarlet “robe” arrests the eye, while the superb aroma, full of Clos de Bèze finesse, captivates one’s olefactory senses. A mingling of raspberry, cherry, and peony scents show on a nose of real complexity. The flavour is dense but buoyant and the aftertaste, still in bud, is mineral and very nuanced. A great Clos de Bèze, in the feminine mode, to revel in around 2023-38.

2010 CHAMBERTIN *****

A stouter wine than the CdeB, this has an assertive, even aggressive, aroma of redcurrant, raspberry, and Iiquorice. Easily the most full-bodled of them all, it has all the Chambertin volume and power one could wish, with all its many elements in harmony. It’s firmly closed at present, but its superb structure and depth of flavour cannot be missed. Will develop splendidly for decades.

Domaine Trapet is at the other end of the village, located on the Route Nationale that links Dijon with Beaune. They have 15.7 hectares of vines, inclusive of large portions of three Grands Crus, several Premiers Crus, and Village Gevrey. They have been wholly biodynamic for quite sorne years.

First a look at some 2008s, which are elegant, with a steely structure, but very closed up. The ’08 Gevrey Chambertin seems elegant but light, but will doubtless fill out in time, while the Premier Cru Clos Prieur is much more expressive, exhaling scents reminiscent of plum and fig. ’08 Gevrey Premier Cru Capita – a blend of several small plots – emits swirling Pinot noir scents, with a suggestion of tea, and has a fine, nuanced aftertaste.

2008 CHAMBERTIN ****

Well-coloured, this has a fine, complex aroma, notably ferruginous, of black cherry, metal filings, and liquorice. This nose, of striking tautness, leads into an excellent, concentrated flavour with plenty of sinew and good grip. A classic Chambertin for long keeping.

Madame Trapet, who’s giving me this tasting, tells me that 2010 is a year of very small production. This is reflected in the wines’ excellent concentration.

2010 GEVREY CHAMBERTIN PREMIER CRU *** (a blend of five different plots)

The intense purple colour promises good concentration, as does a big, round aroma of cherry, damson, and redcurrant. The intense flavour lives up to this, being dense and persistent. ln an ideal world, bottles won’t be broached for 10 or so years.

2010 CHAPELLE CHAMBERTIN ****

The deep-purple robe has that special intensity found in stained glass windows. The aroma suggests crushed raspberry and cherry with stone, moving to lush black cherry on the palate. Full and round, with excellent ripe tannins, it exhibits the balance needed for long Iife. 12 years to start, then 10+.

2010 LATRICIERES CHAMBERTIN ****

This is darker and smells differently too: black cherry, truffle, sloe, and prune. It’s an assertive, high-tension smell, typical of Latricières, one of the most sinevy of Grands Crus (others in the style include Bonnes Mares, Echézeaux, and Clos de la Roche). The flavour is long and powerful, with an almost salty finish. Wait about 12 years and drink 2021-33.

2010 CHAMBERTIN ****(*)

As always, Chambertin (I’ve heard Mme Trapet call it “le patron“) is the fullest and most complete of the Trapet wines. Promisingly dark, it has a profound, seamless aroma of black cherry and Iiquorice, leading into a glossy, complex flavour of optimal concentration. A great Chambertin for long keeping.

At Domaine Dujac, Alec Seysses and I do a brief tour d’horizon of recent trends: the problems and opportunitles that arlse at every new harvest, and the character of various vintages. We’re both very keen on 2001 and 1999, not to mention 2005, 2006, and 2008 (to name but a few). “Great vintages were few and far between in the past,” Alec observes. “You only got one every 10 to 15 years. Now, it’s every five years! And they keep getting better. The 2010s have started better than the 2000s, the 2000s are better than the 1990s, and the ’90s were better than the ’80s…”

2009 MOREY SAINT DENIS BLANC **

The soft, flowery nose conjures up white rose and rose hip, with a suggestion of magnesium. Succulent on the palate, faintly waxy, it will make an excellent accompaniment to such fish as lemon sole, sea-bass, etc., over the next five years or so. A bit low in acidity.

2009 MOREY SAINT DENIS BLANC 1ER CRU MONTS LUISANTS ***

The white-gold colour has more glitter (which is apt, given the vineyard name of “GIittering Hills”) and the nose is fuller and richer, evoking apple, elderflower, and greengage. The flavour is mouthfilling, with a fine texture, and has a mineral finish.

These two wines are among the very few whites produced on the Côte de Nuits. Others include Clos de Vougeot Blanc and white Musigny. Domaine Rousseau makes a tiny amount of a simple white wine (mainly used in making kir!) and Domaine Trapet produces a Iittle Bourgogne BIanc. They have a style all their own, hard to pin down: fugitively floral, with suggestions of magnesium, a soft waxiness.

2009 MOREY SAINT DENIS ROUGE **(*) 

Not a lot of colour but the nose is lovely, with hints of strawberry, red cherry, and raspberry. True to the character of the vintage, it shows broadness, roundness, and body. Liquorice enters into the flavour, which is quite tannic, with a slight pruniness showing on the middle-palate. Should be heId back a couple of years or so and enjoyed for the rest of the decade.

2009 GEVREY CHAMBERTIN 1ER CRU COMBOTTES ***

This has a fine, clear-cut Pinot Noir aroma of mostly red fruits but with a hint of something darker, and more savage, like ripe damson. The flavour is weighty, with suggestions of iron on the spicy aftertaste. Will improve for over a decade.

2009 CHARMES CHAMBERTlN ****

Richly coloured, this possesses a focused, purposeful aroma of black cherry and damson. The flavour is packed with energy, and expands to incorporate hints of several black fruits at optimal rlpeness, including blackberry. The dense finish is quite chocolaty A 20-year wine.

2009 CLOS SAINT DENIS ****

Wholly different in style, this well-coloured wine has a refined, complex aroma suggesting black cherry and bilberry, truffle, and graphite. The graceful flavour, gently sinewy, is long and full of nuances and has a velvety texture. A haunting wine, in the feminine mode, with a touch of allspice and juniper on the finish.

Of all the wines of Morey, this growth, for me, represents the very quintessence of the commune. Indeed, in its way it’s one of the most singular of all burgundies.

2009 CLOS DE LA ROCHE ****(*)

This archetypical Clos de la Roche has a big, complex aroma of almost steely firmness. The main aromas conjure up damson and black cherry, but a host of other sub-flavours can be detected, lurking in the wings as it were. The flavour, while closed up, clearly has all the elements needed for greatness: structure, harmony, complexity. A wine of majestic bearing, sure to improve for 20 years and more.

2009 BONNES MARES *****

At its best, Bonnes Mares is surely one of the 10 greatest of Burgundy’s’ thlrty-odd Grands Crus. This example has a beautiful colour and a noble, soaring aroma – a congregation of delectable perfumes – reminiscent of black cherry, blackcurrant, and peony. Not surprisingly, it’s closed on the palate, but the primary flavours, not fully formed, have a rolling quality, showing firmness of structure and underlying depth end harmony. There are so many layers of sub-flavour that, at this early stage, you seem to be tasting three great wines in one.

This has everything needed to give a very great wine over the coming 30 years.

Edvard Munch once said, “I want to paint pictures that will make people take off their hats, as in church.” There are some wines that make you feel that way too.

Domaine Perrot-Minot is also located in Morey Saint Denis but most of the wines are from tiny plots of old vines in a whole series of communes on the “Golden Slope”, including quite a few Grands Crus (Clos Vougeot, Chambertin, Clos de Bèze, Mazoyères Chambertin, and many more.

2009 GEVREY CHAMBERTIN *

This has a balanced aroma of plum jam and graphite and a round, quite light flavour not unlike plum jam with a touch of prune. Elegant and supple (very low in acidity) it will give mounting pleasure over the next six years or so.

2009 MOREY SAINT DENIS EN RUE DE VERGY **

This smells plummy too, but one can also pick out red rose and carnation. The flavour shows good concentration of Pinot Noir fruit and is altogether tauter than the preceding wine. It also has noticeably better acidity. The finish is protracted, with good minerality. A 10-year wine.

2009 MOREY SAINT DENIS 1ER CRU LA RIOTTE ***

This has an excellent nose, of great precision, suggestive of bilberry and violet. The flavour is smooth and carries a promise of finesse. The fine tannins mesh beautifully with the fruit and the wine will evolve into something exceptional in 12-15 years.

2009 CHAMBOLLE MUSIGNY 1ER CRU COMBE D’ORVEAU ***(*)

A deep scarlet, this has a fine, nuanced scent of black fruits and berries with a flowery element. The flavour is subtly vinous, evoking autumn berries and damson, and the finish is nuanced and understated. The oak is barely perceptible even at this early stage. Best around 2019-28.

2009 NUITS SAlNT GEORGES 1ER CRU RICHEMONE ****

The solid colour promises denslty and body and this is confirmed by a full, round aroma that’s Iushly fruity yet with classic restraint: a seamless aroma of pronounced vinosity. On the palate, one thinks of bilberry and damson; but as the flavour expands new sub-flavours materialize: morel and truffle. The finish is long, subtle, and of great refinement. Will be splendid in 20 years from now (but drinkable long before).

While unmistakeably a Nuits in structure, Richemone lies only a few hundred metres from Vosne-Romanée, and does exhibit more than a little Vosne sumptuousness.

2009 CHARMES CHAMBERTIN ****(*)

Dark, even blackish, this has a big, faintly gamy nose of blackberry, fig, truffle, and underbrush. The concentrated flavour is buoyant, long and very fresh (an excellent sign in this hot vintage) and the fine tannins in no way encroach on the velvety texture. Like all the preceding wines it will be drinkable fairly early on, but needs 12-15 years to evolve cornpletely.

2009 CHAPELLE CHAMBERTIN ****(*)

The darkest of them all, and also the most concentrated. The massive aroma is very round, globular even, and very luscious. It conjures up black cherry, Iiquorice, smoke, and damson. The flavour, too, is Iushly fruity, and I find truffle and coffee on the faintly bitter finish. A 30-year wine.

This is an archetypical Chapelle-Chambertin, perhaps the most opulent of Gevrey’s Grands Crus. Tasted blind, one could almost mistake it for a Vosne-Romanée.

© Frank Ward 2011

>> Continued : A taste of Burgundy – Part II

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