2011 White Burgundy
The first white Burgundy I ever drank was while having lunch with my sister at Gordon Ramsay’s eponymous Michelin three-starred Restaurant Gordon Ramsay on Hospital Road in London in 2010. It was a Meursault, possibly the house wine, and sold by the glass. They don’t sell muck: it blew me away. This remains, along with the 2007 Sacred Hill Rifleman, one of my two touchstone Chardonnay wine experiences…
So to have the chance to try a horizontal of white Burgundies, including two Meursaults, was not to be passed up. And I wasn’t alone, the tasting was packed out….
The wines we were to try:
2011 Henri Boillot Puligny Montrachet Clos de la Mouchere
2011 Henri Boillot Corton Charlemagne
2011 Latour Giraud Meursault Genevrieres
2011 Henri Boillot Puligny Montrachet Combettes
2011 Blain Gagnard Chassagne Montrachet Caillerets
2011 Roulot Meursault Charmes
There were some excellent notes compiled by AM to accompany the Society tasting:
“By nature, this great grape is non-aromatic to the nose, full-bodied by mouthfeel, and lively in acidity. Chardonnay is relatively easy to grow, and to make into ordinary wine. These features leave scope for many things to influence the character of the finished wine, from first glimpse through to finishing resonance, and perhaps even to produce extraordinary wine. These factors include: the nature of the vintage, the character of the soil and site, and methods of vinification and maturation. Especially as expressed in white Burgundy, chardonnay has a natural tendency to produce wines of some power. In good hands, it can also produce wines of finesse and complexity.
Issues & Trends
The stellar reputation and high price of a good white Burgundy depends partly on its track record of maturing and developing long and gracefully. This reputation has been complicated and somewhat qualified by the premature oxidation (a.k.a. ‘pre-mox’ or ‘pox’) that has afflicted too many bottles from the late-20th century to the early 21st century. When this affliction began, how prevalent it still is, and what its causal specifics are, remain frustratingly ongoing points of uncertainty and controversy.
One consumer response to premature oxidation has been to mitigate risk by drinking white Burgundy younger than previously. One producer trend, part response to premature oxidation, but perhaps also partly of independent stylistic origin, is to increase the levels and prevalence of reductive sulphides in bottles. These sulphidic notes, with their flinty notes of struck match – ‘le matchstick’, some call it – are associated with ‘reductive wine-making’, where exposure of wines to oxygen is deliberately limited during ageing. Techniques amenable to this style of wine-making include: minimizing new-oak influence, limiting lees-stirring or dropping it altogether, minimizing movement of wine from one barrel to another or making such moves in the absence of oxygen, and completing ageing in tank rather than in barrel.
Some wine-makers claim that reductive character is simply delivered to them by their soils. Other commentators share Jancis Robinson’s view that: “It is only very rarely shaped by what goes on in the vineyard … but usually it is the decisions a wine-maker makes in the cellar that make the difference”. Here is the summation of Jean-Marc Roulot, whose much-admired Meursault wines feature in tonight’s line-up: “there has definitely been a change in the way that producers, and consumers, view reduction, which, thanks to premature oxidation, is now seen as something more positive. There are also some widely admired producers of white Burgundy who have opted for marked reduction so that reduction has come to be perceived by consumers as a sign of quality”.
Jancis Robinson counts Domaines Leflaive and Coche Dury amongst the most influential producers that have moved, through a series of small steps, in a more reductive direction. The trend is widespread, both in Burgundy and throughout the wider world of chardonnay.
A traditional complaint against reduction in wines is that it tends to deaden freshness and flatten or even obliterate natural fruit character, producing wines that are boring and wearying to smell and taste. This line of criticism has been renewed or continued by some current commentators. Perhaps with a mix of empirical observation and wishful thinking, for example, Jancis Robinson claimed in early 2015 to: “sense the creak of a pendulum beginning to swing in the opposite direction”, especially in the most influential producers. There are also influential producers who actively oppose to le matchstick in wines. Dominique Lafon puts this into a rhetorical question: “Why should I start making reductive wines just to avoid the premox problem?”.
These notes do not comment on where tonight’s producers sit on matters of oxidation or reduction, but please do attend closely to what the content of each glass tells you.
The white Burgundy vintage of 2011 was more challenging than the ripe 2009 or the more classical 2010. Here is Jancis Robinson’s two-sentence summary: “Less ripe than the previous two vintages, needing chaptalisation in many cases. Chaotic weather made this a tricky vintage overall”. As always, even a glance at thoughtful reviews of particular wines by leading writers confirms that many able producers handled this tricky vintage beautifully. Let us hope our senses deliver this message to us also on the night, through this tantalizing set of wines.
Domaine Henri Boillot. This domaine was formed in 2005, when Henri bought out shares of his father’s domaine from other siblings. According to Henri, his “white wine is all about vinification”. The grapes are whole-bunch pressed, clarified fairly thoroughly, then vinified without any batonage. Elevage is in 350-litre barrels from Francois Freres, using a balance of new and one-year-old barrels. Morris comments (2010: 367): “The white wines are very pure, with a little crisp toastiness … but no sense of being over-oaked. They are supported by good acidity – an essential part of great white burgundy for Henri”.
Domaine Guy Roulot. At this outstanding Mersault domaine, Jean-Marc Roulot has been in charge since 1989. Morris (2010: 412-413) comments: “he has since brought a fine domaine into the very top league. He is one of the few producers who has managed to move from heavier to purer wines but not lose anything of the potential quality and complexity”. Where grape skins are healthy, Roulot prefers to crush before pressing, saying he finds a greener juice that way, with a degree more acidity without changing the pH. No more than 20 percent new wood is used for village wines, and 25-30 per cent for the crus. About the Charmes bottling, Morris comments: “Rich yet pure and balanced: a classical lower-slope Mersault”.
Latour Giraud. Apologies: no information sourced. Knowledgeable members – please fill the gap here verbally on the night.
Domaine Blain-Gagnard. Most of the premier cru whites are from Chassagne Montrachet. The grapes are crushed then pressed, debourbage, fermentation in barrel, lees-stirring, one racking, and blending in tank. Jean-Marc Blain pursues elegance rather than power, and selects his coopers and forests carefully (Minier in Chagny is a favourite). He uses just 10-15 percent new barrels for village and premier cru wines, and 30 percent for grands crus. About the Chassagne-Montrachet bottling, Morris comments that the (2010: 456): “plot runs the full length of the vineyard: the marl above gives weight to the wine, the white soil lower down provides elegance and finesse … a very complete wine, with subtleties of flavour despite its evident power”.
And to the wines:
2011 Blain Gagnard Chassagne Montrachet Caillerets – Pale gold colour. Honeyed, rich, with notes of caramel and light florals. Sweet entry on palate, crisp acidity and freshness, lean & minerally. Good plate weight. A lovely wine to start. One taster smelled Acacia flowers. I scored this Gold, and it was my 3rd Wine of the Night.
2011 Henri Boillot Puligny Montrachet Clos de la Mouchere– Pale gold colour. Oaky, soft and round, with spice and ripe stonefruit characters. Some reduction/ touch of sulphur. Tight acid on entry, salty and sharp. Fine mouthfeel, freshness, balance and length. A lovely leanness to this wine. I scored this Gold, and was my 2nd Wine of the Night
2011 Latour Giraud Meursault Genevrieres – Pale gold colour. Somewhat mute to start, then showed light fruit, butter & lemons, and white peaches. Minerality, lemons, ginger and spearmint in the mouth. Piercing acid is underlined in my notes. It finished sweeter and softer. I scored this Silver. This wine lacked a bit of age.
2011 Henri Boillot Puligny Montrachet Combettes – Pale gold colour. Reductive, flint on the nose. Flat, steely and fresh in the mouth. Salty, linear and crunchy. Apple seed finish. Interestingly angular this wine, with great length and persistence. I scored this Gold.
2011 Roulot Meursault Charmes – Pale gold colour. Complex, beguiling, perfumed and opulent. Poised and tense, layered, and fleshy with a touch of spice. In the mouth was depth and power and finesse. Showing lemon freshness and acidity and lingering persistence. Fruit cake! And showed TIME. I scored this Gold and my WOTN (wine of the night).
2011 Henri Boillot Corton Charlemagne – Gold colour. This is what we all came for. The heavyweight on the bill. Serious, heavy, complex, burnt matchstick reductive and chalky characters. Great palate weight, fruit and sweetness, huge and long. The biggest and richest Chardonnay of the flight. A true Grand Cru. I scored this Gold. A majority in attendance saw it as their WOTN.
My impressions over the flight was that the wines started off quite mute, but opened up over time. And when they did, I saw quite a beguiling perfume. Another feature over the flight was the piercing acidity. More than what I was expecting, and I think masked any great complexity (with the exception of the Charmes). Meausault wins again!
A wonderful opportunity to try some rare wines with a hefty price tag on this side of the world. Many thanks to our guide and host and our cellarmaster.
And as it was our last meeting for the year, we finished with a piece of Christmas Cake and several sweet wines to taste. Yum: