Red Burgundy 2009: Reports of Impending Death Are Much Exaggerated

A tasting of a dozen premier and grand cru red Burgundies from 2009 suggested that the impending death of this vintage has been much exaggerated. When it was released, it was acclaimed (in Burgundy anyway) as a great vintage, close to the greatest in living memory…When 2010 came along, the reassessment was that 2010 had the stuffing to last, and that 2009, while attractively ripe and fleshy in the short term, wouldn’t be for the long haul, so better load up on 2010s…

The 2009s at this tasting more or less divided into those that are attractive now, and which for the most part would fit the general description of this as a (relatively) short lived vintage, although there was nothing that needs to be consumed in the next (say) five years. The other half are not yet ready, have pretty good acidity and tight structure, and won’t be ready for another five years; after which they should hold for a decade. That is not particularly short lived in my view. (And if you remember the Burgundy vintages that are presented as vins de garde, good for decades, well, just try a 1996: most will never come round.) All the wines have (relatively) high alcohol for Burgundy, but none was out of balance, and none show anything like the cooked fruits of 2003. In fact, my overall impression was that this is a more mainstream vintage than it’s now usually represented to be. In the context of that overall impression, there were lots of surprises with interesting reversals of expected character, and many individual wines show changes in producer styles from the past.

Wines that are ready to drink include Lafon’s Volnay Santenots (not as silky as usual, but a making a very fine impression appropriate for Volnay), Chevillon’s Nuits St. Georges Vaucrains (showing a touch more development than most wines), Chateau de la Tour’s Clos Vougeot (unusually delicate and one of the wines that does need to be consumed soon), and Pousse d’Or’s Clos de la Bousse d’Or (unusually earthy and less refined than in the old days). Ponsot’s Clos de la Roche was a shocker: so light and elegant, almost delicate, that many tasters thought it must be a top Volnay. Another shocker, in the opposite direction, was Faiveley’s Clos des Cortons, living up to the ripe reputation of the vintage to the point of becoming almost rustic. This is a big change in style from a decade ago. Dujac’s Bonnes Mares is a puzzler, earthier than usual, but not really developed enough to tell.

Geantet-Pansiot’s Charmes Chambertin looks to be one of the most reserved wines of the vintage, with a tight acidic structure and a touch of the hardness of Gevrey. Another wine in a backward style is Vogüe’s Musigny, tight and textured, but not yet releasing much flavor, but here the potential for aging is evident. Freddie Mugnier’s Chambolle Musigny Les Fuées is also somewhat backward, more structured and less elegant than usual, but showing more aromatic complexity than most 2009s at this time.

One of my favorites had completely unexpected origins. Generally restrained, but with a taut yet powerful underlying structure, d’Angerville’s Volnay Caillerets seemed more like a Grand Cru from the Côte de Nuits: terrific wine, but powerful rather than delicate. Another major change in style from the past. The Caillerets split my affection with Drouhin’s Clos de Beze, still clearly very youthful, just beginning to develop aromatic complexity, but oh so obviously a grand cru in its potential.

This is a more interesting vintage than it might appear superficially, with something for evertyone: some ripe, round wines require to be enjoyed now, but there are enough that are nowhere near ready yet and will last at least a decade or more. Mustn’t grumble.

Burgundy Diary part 3: the Revival of Pousse d’Or, a Neat Invention, and the 2013 vintage

I remember the wines of Pousse d’Or from the early nineties as being among the most elegant in Volnay, with an indefinably delicate expression of Pinot Noir. Then with Gérard Potel’s death in 1997 the domain somewhat fell out of view. A visit this week explained the history and demonstrated its return to full form.

Patrick Landanger, who had been an engineer and inventor, bought the domain in 1997, and started by employing a régisseur (general manager). But it was very difficult to sell the 1998 vintage: many of the contacts with clients had been personal, and there wasn’t much confidence after Gérard Potel’s death. “Patrick was told that if he wanted to regain confidence he would need to make the wine himself. So he went to oenology school… The first vintage he made was 1999, which was well received,” explains commercial manager Marleen Nicot.

There’s been major investment here in a new building that houses a gravity-fed winery. It’s built into the side of the hill, with three levels to allow berries to come in at the top, go down into the barrels, and then down again for bottling. “We are happy to have the slope of Volnay here and to able to the work by gravity,” says Marleen.

Production is focused on red wine. There are 17 ha today, which is significantly more than in 1997, but the only white wine comes from a vineyard that was purchased in Puligny Montrachet. The heart of the domain remains the premier crus from Volnay, but Patrick has extended the domain first farther north on the Côte de Beaune with two vineyards in Corton, and then into Chambolle Musigny with some village wine and four premier crus. If Volnay is the most elegant appellation of the Côte de Beaune, Chambolle is its counterpart on the Côte de Nuits, but you don’t often get the chance to compare wines from these two appellations coming from the same winemaker.

Patrick has not stopped inventing. All the barrels of red wine have a glass structure on top that looks like a decanter. Called a ouilleur (from ouillage, which means topping-up), it’s a device that keeps the barrel completely full. A polythene top with holes and a flap allows gas be expelled, but air cannot enter. So the head space above the wine is filled by carbon dioxide that is released naturally from the wine. It means that opening the bung for topping up is required less often. You can also see whether malolactic fermentation is proceeding without needing to open the bung.

For all the premier crus there is one third new oak, one third one-year, and one third two-year; grand Crus have 40-45% new oak. Larger barrels (350 liter) are used for the white wine – Patrick prefers to reduce the oak surface – and oxidation will be lower. (I wonder if that will help to avoid premox). Ouilleurs are not used for the whites because of the need for battonage.

PousseDor-BarrelTW1The ouilleur reduces the need for topping up

We tasted the 2013s from barrique. The name of the Volnay Bousse d’Or reflects the refusal of the authorities to allow the same name to be used for both the domain and a premier cru, and the wine gives a precise, yet intense impression that will be very Volnay-ish as it develops. Two more premier crus from Volnay are in the same general style. Clos des 60 Ouvrées has a bit more punch and structure, but is less generous at this stage. People who like wines younger generally prefer Bousse d’Or; those who prefer to wait may prefer 60 Ouvrées. Clos d’Auvignac is concentrated and structured. The Chambolle Musigny’s seem a little rounder, a little more feminine, rising from the village wine with fruits that are lighter than the Volnays, to the premier cru Charmes, which is more restrained but promises to move in the direction of finesse and silkiness, to Les Amoureuses, which adds a touch of spice and a glossy sheen; then moving to the grand cru Bonnes Mares there’s just a bit more roundness and power, that indefinable difference that marks the grand cru. The 2013s have been successful here, and my two favorites of the moment are Bousse d’Or and Amoureuses, but in the future it would make a fascinating blind tasting to compare the exression of terroirs in the premier crus from Volnay and Chambolle Musigny as they mature.