The closest link between the people that make wine and the people that drink it
The weather forecast for Burgundy was sunny and warm….a nice surprise as I usually pack my thermal underwear otherwise reserved for skiing trips. At Berry Bros. & Rudd we are extremely lucky that out entire Fine Wine sales-team has the opportunity to taste the new vintage before a new release allowing us to speak with authority and personal understanding to our clients about the wines. Burgundy with its complex appellation controlee system and fragmentation of vineyards can be daunting to understand, but ultimately it is about three things; terroir, people and vintage. The individual soil, vineyard aspect and microclimate are as much responsible for the final product as the producer. Tasting Mugnier’s Amoureuses is as much about charm of top Chambolle as the sparkling character of Frederic Mugnier…..tasting Domaine Eugenie’s Clos Vougeot is tasting the richness of the terroir and the precision that only Frederic Engerer can bring to the domaine. The weather in each individual vintage makes each wine unique.
So what about 2011? March to June was dry and warm. The hot spring combined with an early budburst and flowing, brought early expectations that this would be a vintage similar to 2003 with a mid-August harvest around 90 days after flowering. Mid July (15th) the weather changed and cooler weather and rain dramatically changed the character of the vintage as David Croix said it provided at first a welcome break and has given freshness to the wines producing a classic balanced vintage’. Harvest was still early with many producers starting in the last few days of August (only the 6th time since records began that Burgundy harvested in August with the earliest vintage on record 1719); Hubert Lamy in St Aubin started as early as the 24th as did Patrick Javillier (23rd August – earliest harvest ever for the domaine), who noticed an alcohol increase of 1°C over three days. Reds were harvested slightly later. Denis Bachelet started on the 31st August and Frederic Mugnier said that it is ‘against my religion to pick in August’ and started on 2nd September. There was fear of bad weather, but the main reason for the early harvest was the fact that phenolic ripeness was achieved, despite relatively low sugar levels. Cote Challonaise and Chablis suffered most from extended rainfall and the Cotes de Nuits was overall the driest. Production levels are lower than 2009, but in most places slightly up on 2010.
Back to our 2011 tasting trip. The weather was not as kind to us as the weatherman had predicted. The sun tried without success to break through the clouds and our entire visit was shrouded in clouds, which somehow adds to the beauty of Burgundy. I was grateful for the unusually warm cellars as producers were continuing to encourage fermentation on their 2012s (another fascinating story for another time). With over 25 producers and over 350 wines in 3.5 days, it is impossible to describe all the visits.
Day 1 we focused almost entirely on the whites and in general I found them similar to the 2007s, with good vibrancy and freshness (not the racy acidity of 2010). Almost all the Puligny-Montrachets I tasted were rated good-exceptional and the Corton-Charlemagnes that we tasted were very consistent. Chassagne Montrachet and Meursault were more producer dependent, but some very fine examples. Patrick Javillier’s wines were better than I have ever tasted with more finesse, greater definition of fruit and restrain than in previous vintages. For those that seek restrain, Meursault Tillets is laden with greengages, starfruit, green apples and a lovely nose note typical of Meursault. Tête de Murger is among the most powerful Meursaults we tasted. It is always a treat to visit Etienne Sauzet’s cellars as no-one captures the spirit of Puligny Montrachet in the same way. Tasting the 2011 vintage was a fascinating tour around the different terroirs of Puligny Montrachet; from the complex, consistent, age-worthy Combettes (lower on slope with more clay) to the fine,elegant, minerally driven Folatieres (mid slope, white marl) or the almost Meursault-like powerful Champs-Canet (high slope on clay and limestone). Etienne Sauzet commented that in his view 2011 is ‘an excellent vintage, very powerful. A vintage of light and it is light not heat that we want as it (light) provides ripeness and captures acidity’. If Sauzet captures the spirit of Puligny, then Arnaud Ente captures the essence of Meursault, despite only producing one 1er Cru (Goutte D’Or). Apart from straight Meursault he produce three cuvees (that are easily at 1er Cru level and prices); Clos des Ambres with stone-fruit intensity is harvest from vines next to Seve du Clos (both in Ormeau), La Seve du Clos produced from the same soil but from vines over 100 years old and provides great energy and complexity. The lieux dit Petit Charrons is a step up from Clos des Ambres with an almost Coche Dury like vibrancy. It is impossible to do justice to all the wines that we tasted and the people we met. Regarding the whites, I want to mention Benjamin Leroux (wine maker at Comte Armand as well as at his own negociant), who we visited on Day 2. Across his range there were some fine examples, but his 2011 village wine is really focused and usually a complete bargain and his Chassagne Montrachet Tête du Clos is Grand Cru quality at 1er Cru prices. The latter comes from a small plot just above Morgeot and below Bois de Chassagne (only three produces use it on their label); the palate was very intense when we tasted it and the wine very masculine in style. Unusually, Ben prefers his 2011 Tête du Clos to his 2010.
Tuesday to Thursday morning we focussed more on reds. Before leaving England, I heard a few people describe 2011 as a white wine vintage, so I was actually surprised and impressed by the quality of the reds (and would argue that in many places the reds are better than the whites). The gods that watch over Burgundy have blessed the Cotes de Nuits with a very good vintage, though it is producer dependant; harvesting dates, sorting and pruning techniques had a massive impact. For those that think the vintage conditions sound similar to 2007, the red wines themselves are definitely not. As full phenolic (flavour) ripeness was achieved, the wines show far more brightness of fruit, depth, colour and concentration than 2007, similar in style maybe to 2010 but lighter and with lower alcohol levels and without the exotic notes of 2009. The delicate and precise nature of the wines, the ripe fruit and fine ripe tannins have brought out the clear definition of appellations and made these wines hugely attractive to me. These are not wines for those that like blockbuster Pinots, but will be very attractive to those that love Burgundy for its nuances of styles and seductive nature. The delicate style has made Nuits-St-Georges the most consistent appellation in my notebook, though this does not necessarily reflect the greatest wines tasted.
The first reds that we tasted were at Domaine de Montille with Etienne de Montille and American cellar master Brian Sieve. Etienne de Montille mentioned that he thinks earlier harvest are becoming the norm due to climate change and he firmly believes that overripeness is the biggest challenge for Burgundy producers as the greatness of burgundy is found in the ‘ability to transfer a sense of terroir’. His Pommard 1er Cru Pezerolles was beautifully elegant. Etienne de Montille believes this vineyard located in the north of Pommard always produces the most elegant Pommards. Brian is a breath of fresh air in France with his no-nonsense and honest answers and he re-enforces the notion that 2011 is a good vintage for those that were willing to work hard. Most wines needed some chaptalisation (0.2-0.5%), but the colour and concentration is good as it is the acidity. I think I have a soft spot for Pommard, because as usually I was immensely impressed with the Clos des Epeneaux we tasted at Comte Armand on day 2. We never taste the final blend at this point. As a magician Ben shows the three different component parts that make up Clos des Epeneaux (from three different part of the vineyard) and then blends what he thinks will be the final wine for us to taste. The first cuvee comes from 30 year old vines in Grands Epeneaux and lovely and aromatic with good grip on the palate (very pommard in style). 10% of this will be blended into the final wine. The second cuvee comes from 50-year old vines near Grand Epeneaux at the top of the vineyard with little topsoil where the vines struggle on a hard bedrock. This cuvee is rich, concentrated with great acidity and will form 40% of the final blend. The final 50% comes from35-80 year old vines grown on fragmented rock at the lower part of the Clos. This cuvee shows an expressive nose, and an enticing floral lift and great length. The final blend is superb and only just beaten by the 2010 Clos des Epeneaux that Ben pours us afterwards.
On Wednesday we tasted at Cathiard, where the 2011 is the first vintage made solely under the watchful eye of Sebastian. As usual the wines are defined by purity and capture the sensuality of Vosne-Romaneé, showing the usual gloss and bright dark fruit energy. Despite a change of watch, the wines continue to be in safe hands (see photo).
Wednesday’s visit to Thibault Liger Belair was exceptional and brilliant 2010s are definitely followed with outstanding 2011s. The meticulous approach from Thibault is possibly best expressed in his Charmes Chambertin where he has used 20% whole clustered, which he partially destemmed by hand to keep the pedicle, but removed the main stalks, which he thought were too green (he had wanted to add 30% but he and his team stopped at 1am due to tiredness (and possible a glass of courage too many)). Almost all my notes focus on the extra-ordinary concentration, serious (iron) minerality and individuality of terroir. Gruenchers, from the north of Chambolle, combines elegance and structure and is often overlooked. His Nuits St Georges, Les St Georges 1er Cru, continues to be Grand Cru quality and at 1er Cru prices. Stock up now as there is a serious conversation going on about upgrading this vineyard to Grand Cru.
Harvest started at the steep slopes of Clos des Lambrays on the 1st September as Thierry Brouhin usually harvest close to a month before Clos du Tart. Despite the early harvest the wines have maintained an extra-ordinary richness and concentration and among the darkest reds I have seen during the week. Thierry doesn’t know why he didn’t add 100% whole stems as the fruit easily carries the structure of the wines. As always the Grand Cru is polished, with great length and full concentration.
Another estate that seriously impressed me this year was domaine Vougeraie. Their Clos Vougeot Blanc has long been considered by Berry Bros. staff to be among the best whites produced in the Cotes de Nuits, but it was the reds that seriously impressed me this year. It is worth keeping an eye out on this domaine as the wines are getting better and better and their range of Grand Crus is outstanding; their Charmes Chambertin Mazoyeres comes from one of the oldest vineyards in the appellation with vines that are over a 100 years old and the aromatics gentle drift from the glass, while of the palate there is great poise and elegance.
On our last day we visited Domaine Lamarche, who deserve a mention as I think the wines in 2011 are actually better than 2010. After a week of wet cold, it was a blessing to sit in front of a large wood fire to taste the wines. Followed by a visit to Grivot, Barthod, Boillot and finally Mortet. This is the first time I have tasted at Domaine Denis Mortet and was seriously impressed with the wines. Unusually for the vintage he didn’t need to chaptalize as he took a risk and harvest slightly later. Despite the relatively high levels of new oak, there was sufficient concentration to balance this. Very impressive!
Apologies, if this has become a rather long blog. We are lucky enough to visit a large number of producers and thought I don’t feel I have done justice to all their wines, hopefully I have given you an insight into the vintage. I was truly surprised how much I enjoyed the vintage and agree with Clive Coates who writes; ‘One thing, though, is already clear. Two thousand and eleven Burgundy is a success’
Our offer for 2011 Burgundy will go live at the beginning of January 2013 and more information will soon follow.