I am more and more perplexed by the failure to identify the cause of premature oxidation in white Burgundy. A relatively rare problem when it first appeared in 1996, it appears even now still be gathering strength, with producers for whom I had not previously encountered it showing signs for the first time. I’ve been accustomed to think of Domaine Leflaive’s wines as among the longest lived in Puligny Montrachet – not very long ago I finished up some 1989s, which were still splendid. I have not had problems with premature oxidation of Leflaive wines until this week, when a 2005 Puligny Montrachet showed the unmistakable first signs. You might say that after seven years it’s not unreasonable to finish drinking up a communal Puligny, but I’ve had 12-15 years out of Leflaive’s premier crus, and ten out of the communal wine, without difficulty in the past. The disconcerting thing is that there was no sign of this coming: a year ago the wine was at its peak. Granted, I did not expect more than medium term aging (another four years perhaps), but now it seems that I have only a few months at most to finish my supply. White Burgundy as it ages has been one of the glories of France, but sic transit gloria mundi.
March 2012 This wine has begun to slip in the past year, well before you might expect it to, with the first signs of premature oxidation. It’s still a delicious wine with that lovely, steely, character of Puligny as typified by Leflaive – always at the head of the commune – but there are distinct notes of madeirization appearing on nose and finish. While these are still (just) at the stage of adding complexity, it cannot be long before the wine becomes problematic. Before this problem I would have expected another 4 years.
January 2011 An absolutely top result for a village wine, and better than most growers’ premier crus. The characteristic smoke, steel, and gunflint is cut in this vintage by the underlying richness of the year. There isn’t the complexity of a premier cru, but the wine is in lovely balance, with the palate of peaches and cream cut by citrus. Minerality dominates the finish, but the richness suggests only medium term longevity.
Have you experienced the same qualities from multiple bottles of the same wine? Or could this potential problem be a one-off?
Steven Kent Portfolio
Yes indeed, I had the same thought so I tried another bottle from the same case. This was less advanced: the minerality was pushed back by the richness of tthe wine, suppressing the typicity of Puligny and Leflaive, but oxidation was barely in evidence – just about to begin, I would say.
This prompted me to try another bottle of Sauzet’s Puligny, also from the 2005 vintage, about which I wrote recently, when it seemed to me that Sauzet’s wines from this vintage were suffering something akin to the German problem of premature aging (What’s Happening with 2005 White Burgundy?). This wine was much better than the previous bottle, it wasn’t up to Sauzet’s usual standard, but it might be described as a bit tired rather than right over the hill.
I am driven to the conclusion that first, white Burgundy is aging faster than it used to, and second, the aging process has become more erratic, so that well before the end of the natural lifespan, some bottles have gone over the hill while others are still good. This is very suggestive of a systematic problem with corks, although like everyone else, I am mystified as to why this should affect all producers.