Helen’s blog

Thoughts and tastings from Helen Savage, wine writer.

Burgundy Snapshot

I visited a handful of my favourite growers  last week and looked in one or two producers new to me. It was a brief trip, but gave a valuable insight into recent vintages, especially 2011, which is shaping up to being an extremely attractive wine for relatively early drinking. I also learnt more about the problems created by an ever more unpredictable climate and a succession of worryingly small harvests.

Domaine Debray is a small merchant house, based in Beaune. It was founded by wine merchant Yvonnick Debray in 2006. In addition to grapes bought in from a wide range of appellations in the Côte d’Or and Mercurey, Debray owns a few hectares of his own vineyards, notably in the Hautes Côtes de Beaune, near Le Rochepot. This was my first visit to their cellars.

We tasted a number of 2102s from the cask. Winemaker Jean-Philippe Terreau looks to make supple, fruity red wines and fresh whites. For the white wines, whole bunches are pressed directly and after 48 hours settling, are fermented with indigenous yeasts and aged in casks with little or no lees stirring. The red wine grapes are de-stemmed, cold-soaked for several days and then fermented with indigenous yeasts. Extraction is managed mainly by pumping over with a little pumping down towards the end of the fermentation.

Hautes Côtes de Beaune Blanc 2012 shows fresh acids, with fine sweet, white peach fruit, with a slightly floral aroma. Pernand-Vergelesses Blanc 2012 is more toasty, citrus, mineral and complex, with a good persistence of fruit. Saint-Aubin Blanc 2012 is particularly good, with a creamy texture, despite the house style of little batonnage, and again, fine, precise lemony fruit, with a mineral finish. Corton Charlemagne 2012 seeks to impress with richness and considerable complexity, but shows quite soft acids. I prefer the more racy style of the Saint-Aubin.

Of the 2102 reds, a Santenay Premier Cru, Clos Rousseau is delicious, rich and spicy, with vivid cherry fruit and balanced acids. It was aged in 30% new oak. Nuits-Saint-George shows the typicity of the appellation with tight black fruit and quite chewy tannins. Pommard Premier Cru Les Chaponnières, in a sample drawn from a new oak cask, is again true to its origin, with fresh acidity, firm tannins and rich fruit. Clos de Vougeot, again from a new oak cask, is floral and fine, with rich black fruit aromas, fresh acidity and a silky texture.

Although both the Clos de Vougeot and the Corton Charlemagne are undoubtedly good wines, I feel that the estate’s most successful and elegant wines were at village level. The 2011 St Aubin confirms this, with good focus, freshness, linear, citrus fruit and a mineral twist. 70% of the wines are exported (Private Cellar in the UK). They are certainly worth looking out for.

I am always impressed by the wines of the Domaine Taupenot-Merme at Morey-Saint-Denis. Romain Taupenot, surely one of the best winemakers in Burgundy today, is as modest as he is gifted.

In 2012 he lost up to 80% of his crop in the Côte de Beaune, with two severe hail storms, powdery and downy mildew, sun-scorched berries, and in Saint-Romain a sounder of fifty wild boar, which devoured three and half tonnes of white grapes in two days. The flowering in 2013 gives much more hope of a good crop, though there is, Romain says, some coulure on early plots in the Côte de Beaune. 2013 certainly looks like being a much later harvest than in recent years – it does not look likely to begin until October.

Romain’s viticulture in organic, though not certified so, and his winemaking is determinedly low-interventionist. Pinot Noir is usually fully de-stemmed. He believes that unless the stalks are exceptionally ripe (as, for example, in 2005) they should not be included. A long cold soak leads into fermentation with indigenous yeasts unaided by any enzyme. Gentle punching down at the start of extraction is followed mostly by pumping over. Romain avoids punching down in years such as 2007 and 2011 if there is a danger of extracting unripe tannins from the pips.

“I enjoy vanilla, but in a dessert, not in my wines”, he quips and therefore uses no more than 40% new oak for Grands Cru wines, 30% for Premier Cru and 25% for village wines.

Romain believes that the elegant 2011s will come to resemble the 2007s, with their slightly floral perfume, but he also thinks that they show more concentration and a slightly fresher acidic structure. He felt it necessary to chaptalize most cuvées to about 0.5% abv. The extra sugar helped, he said, to prolong the fermentation.

Saint Romain (rouge) 2011 shows fine, bright cherry fruit with a touch of earthiness and a slightly floral aroma. The balance is perfectly judged – with fresh fruit and a mineral end.  For Romain, balance is essence of fine wine. Gevrey-Chambertin 2011 shows typical black fruit aromas, again quite floral and has a fine depth of flavour, with great purity of fruit and real length. Again the balance is exquisite.

Morey-Saint-Denis Premier Cru, Les Riottes, 2009 made from the fruit of fifty four year-old vines is a superb wine, with a wonderfully complex aroma of wild cherries dusted with mixed spice. It is rich, with silky tannins, but as so often with the wine of this estate, a fine, linear structure and perfect balance. The acidity, so often lacking in this ripe vintage, is fresh.

Mazoyères-Chambertin 2007 is drinking splendidly. A rich nose of cherries in alcohol leads to a concentrated palate of red fruits with hints of darker fruit below. It almost goes without saying that it is perfectly balanced and is a fine example of just how good this underrated vintage can be.

Saint Romain Blanc 2011 is very good. It has genuine finesse, with aromas of honeysuckle, white peach, fresh acidity and underlying minerality. The crisp acidity shown in Romain’s 2011s is not always as defined clearly in the wines of other estates.

Jean Fournier is a grower with a reputation for bringing the very best out of his vineyards, mostly in Marsannay, farmed organically. This was my first visit. He is not afraid of doing things just a little differently. He includes around 25% whole bunches for red wines and after a cold maceration of up to ten days a maceration which, according to the conditions of each harvest, normally includes two punch downs and pumpings over each day. Unusually, in Burgundy he also carries an occasional rack and return, which he says, helps to counter any reductive tendencies in the wine, something which he says is a tendency of musts from organically-grown grapes. He favours 600 and 350 litre demi-muids to mature his wines, which impart less oak extract.

Despite the use of rack and return, his red wines showed no sign of over-extraction, just fresh, crunchy fruit. The entry-level Marsannay Cuvée St Urbain 2011 is a great success, with a concentrated aroma of spicy black cherry, good concentration and fine-grained tannins. Marsannay Longeroies 2011 has tight black fruit, firm tannins and has good length. Marsannay Clos du Roi 2011, from a site also with a high limestone content, just to the north and the border into the commune of Chenôve is big and rich with an even fresher expression of black cherry fruit, rounded tannins and a distinct minerality.

Gevrey-Chambertin Clos Prieur 2011 (from the part of the site in village appellation rather than premier cru) is richer still, with very fresh acids to balance the concentrated, crunchy fruit.

Another speciality of Marsannay is, of course, rosé. Fournier’s 2012 is exceptionally good, with creamy red fruit aromas, and quite soft acidity. The white wines of the appellation are often thought to be not quite in the same class as the sturdy, satisfying reds, but Marsannay Les Langeroies Blanc 2012 is balanced and fresh with a fine persistence of lemony fruit and a lingering minerality.

Sylvain Langoureau is based in the hamlet of Gamay with most of his vineyards in the appellation of Saint-Aubin. I first tasted his wines, most of which are white, over ten years ago and was impressed. I now find them more generous and a little less austere, but still with a fine linear quality to the fruit. Everything here is good, starting with a deliciously fresh 2011 Aligoté.

Saint-Aubin 2011 was aged in 20% new oak with sparing use of lees-stirring. From mainly calcareous soils, it shows fresh lemony fruit and a degree of complexity. The 2010 is now more open and perfumed, but also richer and more concentrated, with a grapefruit quality to the fruit and a savoury, lingering minerality that characterises most of their white wines.  Saint-Aubin Premier Cru, Sentier du Clos 2011 from a South, South-East facing site with a little more clay content is elegant, with a floral white peach quality and quitter soft acidity. Saint-Aubin Premier Cru, En Remilly 2011 is longer and more concentrated, with savoury hazelnut aromas, and more mid-palate richness.  Jasper Morris considers this steep, stony, south-facing slope the finest of Saint-Aubin vineyards, “effectively the continuation of Le Montrachet”. Meursault-Blagny, Premier Cru, La Pièce sous le Bois, 2011 is also extremely fine, with complex, spicy lemon and white peach flavours, richness and minerality.

A red Chassagne-Montrachet 2011, with a maceration only with pumping-over to ensure that the fruit is a supple as possible shows a fine purity of red fruit aromas, fresh acidity and yet again, minerality at the end.

Sylvain and Nathalie Langoureau lost 53% of their crop in 2012 and will be forced, as is the general trend to raise their prices by 25%, but to their credit, Nathalie says that they hope to bring their prices back down if 2013 produces a normal-sized crop. They have experienced a little coulure during flowering, but the signs are otherwise good.

I was introduced to the wines of Henri et Gilles Buisson by Christopher Fielden many years ago and have since visited their cellars, nestling up in the village of Saint-Romain, many times. Under the care of Frédérick Buisson and his brother Franck, the wines are better than ever. Although they have vines in a number of appellations of the Côtes de Beaune, just over half of their 19.5 hectares are in Saint-Romain itself, and are now certified as organic.

For their red wines, according to the conditions of the harvest they may include up to 50% of whole bunches and increasingly age their wine in demi-muids rather than traditional pièces bourgignonnes. They use10% to 30% new barrels, depending upon the cuvée.

A simple, generic, red Bourgogne 2010 shows juicy, fresh, but creamy fruit. Saint-Romain Sous Roche, 2009 is much more interesting with delicious, ripe morello cherry aromas and crunchy, well-balanced fruit in the mouth. The same wine in 2010 shows spicier fruit, fine freshness, ripe but firm tannins and real depth. The 2008 is perfumed with cranberry aromas, quite crisp acidity and ripe fruit and tannins.

Wines from other crus all clearly express the typicity of their terroirs. Auxey-Duresses Premier Cru, Les Ecussaux 2010 is bigger and more vinous, again reminiscent of morello cherries. It has a well-judged balance of ripe fruit and tannins. Pommard, Les Petits Noizons 2010 is big and earthy with almost a touch of iron. Very rich, it shows firm tannins which help to give it length. Volnay Premier Cru, Chanlin, 2011 is particularly perfumed and spicy, with a creamy texture, quite soft acidity and gentle tannins.  Corton, Rognet et Corton 2008 is elegant with perfumed red fruit aromas and a well-defined, precisely-balanced structure and considerable length.

Two white wines also show well: Auxey-Duresses, Les Ecussaux 2009 (village, not premier cru) which is ripe, rich, soft and nutty, but also quite mineral and St Romain, Sous la Velle 2011, which is floral, balanced and quite long, with lemony fruit.

Domaine Ragot is another old favourite where the quality of the wine-making, always good, has nevertheless steadily improved. They own ten hectares of vines spread between twenty parcels in around Givry. Their main production parallels that of Givry as a whole, with an emphasis on Pinot Noir. The run of low yields mean that they reckon to have lost the equivalent of an entire year’s crop in the last three years.

The wine-making is gentle, with 100% de-stemming, an emphasis on extraction by pumping over and maturation in a mix of large, old, wooden vats and/or barrels, according to the style of the wine. They do not wish to mask the fruit. In 2011, they also admit to having performed a small, if judicious chaptalisation – to raise the abv not more than 0.5%.

Of their whites, the simple Givry Champ Pourot 2011 shows good, lively, if rather soft fruit and the Givry Premier Cru, Crausot, 2011, made in small quantities, just a thousand bottles per year from a lime-rich site, is very fine indeed, with complexity, mineral length, and rich buttery fruit balanced by fresh acidity.

Red Givry 2011 is fresh and fruity, with distinct strawberry aromas. It has quite juicy acidity and slightly green tannins, but with food, any edginess melts away. Givry Vieilles Vignes 2011 (forty year-old vines) aged in 10% new oak barrels is much deeper-coloured, richer and fruitier, with black cherry, round, ripe tannins and a mineral finish. Givry Premier Cru, la Grande Berge 2011, aged in 20% new oak, a site with a little more clay, is elegant and fine and almost floral, with an emphasis on red fruits, backed by soft tannins. Givry Premier Cru, Clos Jus 2011, aged in 30% new oak from a site with shallow, iron-rich soil over limestone is the richest and most exotically-flavoured wine in the rage – very well balanced.

I first met Pascal Pauget and his wife Sylvie on a cold December day in 2005 during a press trip. I was impressed with their wines then, an impression that has been re-enforced by each subsequent visit to Ozenay. For me, Pauget is the undisputed star of the northern Mâconnais.  

They have lost more than his fair share of crop in recent years and even in 2013 flowering has been less successful than in the Côte d’Or and Côte Chalonnaise, but I was even more disturbed to learn from Sylvie that the devastating disease Flavescence Dorée has been found in the commune of Chardonnay, where the Pauget’s own a couple of hectares of vineyards. Growers there are concerned not only by the strength of the insecticide treatments used to try and eliminate the vector, the leaf-hopper Scaphoideus titanus, but also by the lack of compensation if grubbing-up is necessary.

Despite these considerable worries, the Pauget’s wines are as good as ever. Mâcon Blanc, Terroir de Tournus 2011, from a stony, calcareous soil, shows good fruit purity, crisp and citrus, ripe and balanced. Mâcon-Chardonnay 2009, from deep marl and clay, is ripe and lemony with a fine tension between richness and freshness.

Their Mâcon Rosé 2012 is made from both Gamay and Pinot Noir – obtained by saignée from all the red cuvées. It is quite sturdy, with a mix of rhubarb cherry and spice aromas, plenty of crunchy fruit and a savoury finish.

Of the reds, Mâcon, Terroir de Tournus 2010 (100% Gamay) is surprisingly big and spicy, with juicily sweet fruit underpinned by darker, liquorice-like flavours and soft tannins. Sylvie is right to regret that Gamay is rarely treated with such seriousness in the Mâconnais. Mâcon 2011 from Préty, Bugundy’s only vineyard East of the Saône, opposite Tournus, on pink limestone is a tremendous effort: a big, spicy wine, quite black and even a touch reductive (Sylvie recommends that it should be carafed), with layers of rich, softly-spiced fruit. Bourgogne rouge, Terroir de Tournus 2011 (Pinot Noir) is elegant and spicy, with balanced tannins, ripe fruit and touch of minerality.

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