Oeno-File, the Wine & Gastronomy Column

by Frank Ward

A taste of Burgundy – Part II

lt’s a bright sunny day and the sloping vineyards of Morey Saint Denis are in full leaf and looking at their best. I’ve just left Domaine Dujac, with celestial savours Iingering on my palate, and realize that there’s a thirty-minute gap in my programme. Que faire? The famous Clos des Lambrays, one of Morey’s four Grands Crus, is just around the corner and the wine would be well worth tasting. I don’t have an appointment but the worst that could happen is a polite refusal. The gate is open, I knock on the bureau door, and a pleasant lady, saying that the gérant is away, kindly offers to let me taste the 2009.

I’m always a bit disconcerted by the Clos des Lambrays pale colour. The few times I’ve tasted it, it’s always had a colour that’s closer to a deep rosé than a full-blooded purple. Will the ’09 be any different? And how important is depth of colour anyway?

2009 CLOS DES LAMBRAYS ****

A Iight crimson, this has a soft, reticent scent of wild strawberry, redcurrant, and violet. The flavour is of exceptional delicacy and fuller than the nose leads one to expect. There’s a reprise of strawberry but a hint of wild cherry too. The aftertaste, with good minerality, is very delicate indeed, with tendrils of sub-flavour reaching out in different directions. It’s a different kind of delicacy to that found in Chambolle wines – the most exquisite in all Burgundy – but that difference is hard to pin down. One thing is certain, this refined wine will need at least 8 years to come round and will evolve for a further decade at the very least.

I leave the Domaine still unsure about the essential nature of Clos des Lambrays but very much aware of its extreme subtlety and finesse. Some tasters who’ve sampled many vintages rate it very highly indeed, calling it a « classic wine » which « matures to perfection. » What I need, I tell myself, is a vertical tasting of top vintages!

I’m now on my way to pay my second visit to Domaine Jacques Frédéric Mugnier, which l’m now convinced is one of the region’s very greatest estates. The Domaine not only owns choice plots in some of the most fabled vineyards of all; it also goes to almost superhuman lengths to coax forth the finest qualities inherent in each of them. Tasters who’ve followed their progress for far longer than I aver that every single year, even less propitious ones, brings fresh increments of excellence.

Until 2000 their total acreage amounted to just 4 hectares – a tiny estate indeed. But in that year the Domaine regained control over its 10-hectare Clos de la Maréchale, a fine Premier Cru at the southern end of Nuits Saint Georges. Over the previous 53 years it had been rented out under contract to the negociant house of Faiveley. At one stroke a tiny estate became a substantial one (at least by Burgundy standards).

M. Mugnier is a soft-spoken man, of average build, who conveys an impression of quiet resolution. Throughout the tasting that follows, we exchange impressions sotto voce, both of us trying to edge ever closer to an understanding of the essential nature of each successive growth. Most of my attention is focused on scrawling my impressions in my notebook, but so alert and attentive is M. Mugnier that I’m drawn into a murmured dialogue too. In some subtle way he coaxes forth your innermost thoughts on the matter. This in turn leads to the insight that this perfectionist man exerts a similar effect on each and every one of his wines, a kind of inductive approach to the fashioning and maturation of wine. How could they fail to unveil their deep-seated essences to such a winemaker?

2010 CHAMBOLLE MUSIGNY 1 ER CRU COMBE D’ORVEAU ***

Finesse is the keynote of this light-coloured wine, which exhales subtle scents of red rose, strawberry, and raspberry (tous les fruits rouges, as the French say). These carry through to the palate which, if light, is fat and of pronounced minerality. The gentle tannins promise a harmonious maturity around 2016-22.

2010 CHAMBOLLE MUSIGNY (blend of Village and Premiers Crus) ***

Noticeably darker, this has a full, noble aroma of red fruits, peony, and oriental spices. The lovely silky flavour is long and nuanced, with tannins giving a slightly gritty finish. Fuller than the previous wine, it should show best around 2018-24.

2010 CHAMBOLLE MUSIGNY 1 ER CRU LES FUEES ****

The robe is a vivid purple and the round, enveloping aroma evokes sumptuous black and red fruits and promises a velvety texture. The lovely flavour has multiple facets, ripe cherry to the fore. The finish is extremely long and spicy. A. superb wine to relish around 2020-32 – and probably beyond. Les Fuées lies immediately beside Bonnes Mares, one of the more powerful Grands Crus.

2010 CHAMBOLLE MUSIGNY 1 ER CRU LES AMOUREUSES ****(*)

Because of undigested malic acid and a fugitive hint of sulphur, this is altogether more backward. But one simply cannot miss the richness, concentration, and lurking power of this great wine. Ripe cherry and damson spring to mind. The flavour is packed with energy but it’s still too early to form a complete impression of the wine’s full delineation. The masterful aftertaste is full of substance and shows beautiful balance, even if the details don’t show yet. Lots of minerality. Will improve for 30 years or more.

Les Amoureuses is one of the most sought-after of all Burgundies and, though only a Premier Cru, commands Grand Cru prices.

2010 BONNES MARES ****(*)

The colour is intense and the nose, still a bit sulphury, promises considerable volume and depth. The faint whiff of ginger comes from the oak. Still undergoing the malolactic fermentation, it is in a state of flux yet has a distinct centre of gravity. Even in this state of transition you cannot miss the volume, power, and complexity. A wine for the long term.

2010 MUSIGNY *****

This cherry-purple wine has a globular aroma that’s pronouncedly mineral and packed with Pinot Noir fruit of the utmost ripeness. But if the Pinot traits are marked, the Musigny characteristics are even more in evidence: finesse, complexity, understated strength. The flavour is full and sappy and is reminiscent of raspberry, cherry, and pomegranate. And strikingly fresh. It’s inevitable that so great a wine should be resolutely closed at this early stage but its greatness cannot be missed. The finish is firm and very mineral. Will improve for 30-40 years.

2010 NUITS SAINT GEORGES 1 ER CRU CLOS DE LA MARECHALE ***

This broad, muscular wine is of medium depth of colour and smells like damson, black cherry, leather, morel and truffle. It’s faintly gamy but there’s plenty of lush fruit too. The purposeful flavour is voluminous, with a reprise of those elements found on the nose, with the addition of dark chocolate. The crushed stone of the subsoil shows on the sweeping aftertaste. Best 2021-30 and doubtless beyond.

2009 NUITS SAINT GEORGES 1 ER CRU CLOS DE LA MARECHALE ***

Though in a closed-up phase, this dark, assertive wine is full of substance and smells of black cherry, bilberry, liquorice, and truffle. The voluminous flavour fills the mouth with savage fruit while the finish, which opens out to include chocolate and plum, is persistent and full of nuances. Typically Nuits in its density, it has an underlying freshness too. The hint of prune and fig on the finish is testimony to the heat of the vintage and of the ripeness engendered about by that heat.

2009 MUSIGNY ****(*)

The Pinot Noir, which never gives black wines, can only achieve this exceptional depth of colour in the hottest of years. The nose is vast yet subtle, as round as a full moon. The masterful, homogeneous scent is a seamless meld of black cherry, graphite, sloe, and raspberry. The flavour, as powerful as that of an Hermitage, is mainly of black fruits, and is fresh and distinctly mineraI. The aftertaste comes in ripples. A massive wine, but one with poise and exceptional length.

M. Mugnier is a bit hesitant about it, as Burgundy growers always are when a wine is unwontedly full-bodied. “One can find such wines in Italy, in the Rhône” he murmurs.

I ask myself how Burgundy vintages now seen to be great – ’69, ’52, ’47. etc. – looked when they were as young as these wines we’re tasting now. Surely, in order to be able to age 30-60 years, they must have been powerfully structured· and dense at the very outset? And won’t wines like this ’09 Musigny gradually shed excess flesh and tannins as they age? We agree that this version at any rate, will grow increasingly classic as it matures. Great wines revert to type, slimming down when initially heavy and filling out if they start out light.

As if to shed more light on this puzzle M. Mugnier now uncorks two vintages of Chambolle Les Fuées, one of them classic (the ’08), the other from the oven-hot 2009 vintage.

2009 CHAMBOLLE MUSIGNY 1 ER CRU LES FUEES ***

Richly-pigmented, densely aromatic, this smells mostly of black fruits including sloe. The flavour is packed with substance, suggesting black cherry, bilberry, and liquorice, and the finish is distinctly slatey. A stirringly full, concentrated wine – but not unmistakeably a Chambolle.

2008 CHAMBOLLE MUSIGNY 1 ER CRU LES FUEES ***(*)

The colour is lighter, the nose more buoyant and ethereal, suggesting a meld of red fruits and the most delicately-scented of flowers. A suspicion of mint too. The flavour is, quite simply, gorgeous, with a velvety texture and lots of finesse. But the refinement should not obscure the firm underlying structure. The finish is taut and very complex. Will be sublime around 2016-28.

I’m floating on air as I leave M. Mugnier. After such a tasting I must celebrate with a good lunch. The gods are on my side: I find myself outside a neat little restaurant I’ve never seen before. It has all the hallmarks of excellence: a shipshape appearance and a menu that’s not only well-priced but offers genuinely imaginative, appetising dishes.

I enter and soon am seated in a surprisingly elegant (in so small and rustic a village) dining room, being served a delicious white wine by a young man who clearly could teach some Michelin-starred sommeliers a thing or two. The first course is most toothsome: a small slab of excellent foie gras through which run threads of tender oxtail meat. A first-rate mini-salad rests beside it. The main course is even better: delectable. lightly smoked cod with a wreath of wild asparagus deep-fried in batter. The cod flesh slides into buttery flakes at the lightest touch from the fork. The dessert frankly amazes me. Sweet apples have been thinly sliced and then formed into roses – three of them. Sweetly acidulous, and accompanied by a fine home-made ice-cream, they bring a memorable lunch to an end. The cost: 18 Euros, or less than many Paris three-star hotels charge for a mediocre breakfast.

The place is called Le Chambolle and is in the heart of Chambolle-Musigny.

Château de la Tour are the biggest proprietors in the Grand Cru Clos de Vougeot. with fully 5 hectares of vines. Most of the plants are old, or even very old, and yields are said to be as low as 29 hectolitres per hectare , or less than a half-bottle per vine. These factors are crucial. While the Cabernet-Sauvignon can give black, concentrated wines even at yields of 50 hl/ha, the unique varietal character of the Pinot Noir gets diluted when either bountiful nature, or a greedy vigneron, “fait pisser les vignes“.

Owner is Pierre Labet, who says: “My dream: to recreate the wines of yesteryear.” He refers to an era when vines gave very low yields indeed, giving wines so concentrated that the dregs left in a glass were more like congealed blood than a faint pink blush. “I was brought up on Nuits wines from 1895. We never drank anything younger than 50 years old!”

If he can realize this dream – and a handful of other domaines have already done so – then Burgundy as a region will take yet another step towards perfection. One sign of Labet’s commitment to excellence is his policy of tasting each cuvée every morning and evening. This kind of vigilance allows incipient problems to be tackled before they can take hold.

In addition to his domaine-bottled Vougeot wines, M. Labet also produces a range of mostly Côte de Beaune reds and whites under the François Labet label.

A tasting from the latter range shows that a 2010 Bourgogne Blanc has a fresh scent of greengage and apple, with crisp acidity giving verve and precision. A 2010 Beaune Marconnets is naturally richer, both in pigment and savour, and is given zing by fresh acidity.

A ’10 Meursault is still broader and fuller, with typical Meursault fatness, while a ’10 Savigny 1er Cru Vergelesses is best of all among the whites, with an expressive. slightly waxy scent of white peach and white clay and a smooth, persistent finish.

I am impressed by the intense colour of the ’10 Bourgogne Rouge (it has more colour than many a Premier Cru) and its rich, almost beefy flavour shows an unwonted degree of concentration for a generic red Burgundy. Several other reds show very well, most notably a ’10 Beaune 1er Cru Coucherais, but the most complete of the series is:

2010 GEVREY CHAMBERTIN VIEILLES VIGNES ***

The plum and blackberry nose is still inchoate but unmistakeably dense while the fullish flavour shows not only persistence and a marked Gevrey character, but also real depth of flavour. Concentrated enough to accompany red meats, and even lighter game, it will drink well for at least 8 years. It is made from three plots of vines with an average age of 60 years.

Now to the Domaine wines.

2010 CLOS DE VOUGEOT ***(*)

This dark wine has a voluminous aroma of old-vine depth, of mingled red and black fruits and Iiquorice. The flavour shows excellent concentration and is full of Pinot Noir richness and intensity, in tandem with archetypical Clos de Vougeot rigour and complexity. The finish is long and mineraI, with all sorts of nuances, and the wine clearly won’t peak for 20 years at least. It will then improve for many more years.

2010 CLOS DE VOUGEOT VIEILLES VIGNES ****(*)

Still darker, this super cuvée from century-old vines has a glorious, commanding scent of black cherry, chocolate, strawberry, and crème de framboise. The superb flavour presents these elements in tactile form, and the highly mineral aftertaste keeps on unfolding new sub-flavours that explode on the palate the way fireworks scintiIIate in the sky. A great wine that will live for decades.

At moments like this, I find myself wishing for a miracle, whereby the brilliant sample I’m tasting now could instantly be transformed into the state it will be in when fully mature, in some 40 years’ time.

Dream on, I tell myself…

l’m now at Etienne Sauzet in Puligny-Montrachet to taste the 2009s. As always, one starts with the generic Bourgogne Blanc and works one’s way through a series of Premiers Crus, each showing its own unique characteristics. and ends with several Grands Crus. As with all top vignerons, Gérard Boudot accords the same care and attention to the simplest wine as to the most prestigious.

2009 BOURGOGNE BLANC * (from two plots of old vines)

The clean-cut Chardonnay nose conjures up white rose and elderflower, with a hint of crab apple on the palate. The aftertaste is faintly chalky. To enjoy with seafood over the next 2-3 years.

2009 CHASSAGNE MONTRACHET ** (from a lieu-dit called Les Enseigneurs, not far from Bâtard Montrachet)

A pale yellow-gold with a green tinge, this has a crisp and precise aroma and flavour suggestive of greengage, elderflower, and apple. The persistent aftertaste is marked by the stony (limestone) subsoil. 2014-18.

2009 PULIGNY MONTRACHET ** (from 7 plots)

Smelling of hazelnut, honey, and white peach, this “Village” is well-structured and persistent. The minerality on the finish comes mostly from those plots closest to the neighbouring commune of Meursault, says M. Boudot.

2009 PULIGNY 1 ER CRU LA GARENNE ***

The nose is loaded with chlorophyll scents. with hints of fennel too. Apple aromas soon make their presence felt. White peach and elderflower creep into the flavour, which has several strands which continue to expand in the mouth. A delicate wine. « La Garenne has the poorest soil in all Puligny,» says M. Boudot. as if in explanation of this fragility.

2009 PULIGNY 1 ER CRU REFERTS ***(*)

A totally different wine, from lower slopes, showing much more richness. The full, grapy nose suggests russet apple and there’s a reprise of apple in the mouth. The rich, voluminous flavour is long and there’s a suggestion of bay leaf on the finish, which shows a steely firmness. This demands to be kept some 4-5 years before being enjoyed into the 2020s.

2009 PULlGNY 1 ER CRU FOLATIERES ***(*) (from 2 plots)

The more complex the wine, the more nuanced the colour. This has a shimmering green-gold hue, while the subtle, very expressive aroma calls to mind greengage, lime peel, white peach, and chlorophyll. The flavour is similarly crisp and expressive, and the aftertaste comes in waves turning towards russet pear at the very finish.

This should improve over a dozen years.

2009 PULIGNY 1 ER CRU CHAMP CANET **** (from 1.5 hectares of 60-year vines next to Les Perrières)

This luminious wine has a noble, concentrated aroma, of real weight, suggesting ripe greengage and chlorophyll. Rich and lushly fruity on the palate, it has a long, nuanced finish which flirts with heaviness without reaching it. There’s a hint of crushed stone on the aftertaste. A 15-year wine.

2009 PULIGNY 1 ER CRU COMBETTES ****

An intense green-gold, Combettes has a big, thrustful aroma of apricot, russet apple, and chlorophyll. It’s rich and grapy in the mouth ; ample minerality stipples the aftertaste. A big, balanced wine of great power (easy to take for a Grand Cru if tasted blind), it won’t peak before end-decade and will continue to improve for a further 10 years or so.

2009 BATARD MONTRACHET ****(*) (from one plot in Puligny, one in Chassagne)

The rich, globular scent swirls out of the glass, evoking orange blossom and white peach, with a subtle hint of pineapple and acacia honey. It’s a blossomy scent, with fugitive suggestions of elderflower and yellow rose. The flavour is silky, close-knit, and very long, with red delicacy showing on the protracted finish. The acidity is of the kind found in a perfect eating apple. This will be splendid with lobster or langoustine around 2020-30.

“We picked early, and quickly, in ’09 to avoid overripeness. As you know, Bâtard can be on the heavy side sometimes and I feel we’ve avoided this,” says M.Boudot. I agree, reflecting that this is an especially brilliant achievement in so hot a vintage as 2009.

2009 CHEVALIER MONTRACHET ***** (from white marne at the top end of the vineyard, where the soil is especially poor)

Faintly paler than the Bâtard (Chevalier is almost always a Iighter-structured but more refined wine) this sublime Grand Cru has a soaring scent of white rose, poire William, and elderflower. The subtle flavour, superbly balanced, is precise and long. The texture is exceptionally fine. A true Chevalier-Montrachet – the most refined of white Burgundies that will repay long keeping. To enjoy with the finest fish – scallops, sole, turbot, John Dory – or the most delicate of veal.

© Frank Ward 2011

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