Tue 27 Aug 2013

Burgundy: From The Destruction To The Sublime

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Head of copy Paul Trelford continues his tour of Burgundy. It starts with a bump but ends in euphoria Click here to read the first part.

HailA YEAR’S WORK LOST IN MINUTES
Burgundy’s year had been much like ours back in Blighty. A very long, cold winter and a non-existent spring had left the vines an estimated three weeks behind schedule. So the glorious July weather was welcomed with open arms and the vines were beginning to catch up. Hail is always a threat, however. In July we reported how storms had devastated much of Vouvray and on our journey back from Chablis we felt the full force.

The hail stones, the size of table-tennis balls, crashed against the roof of our bus. Outside they ripped through vines in Côte de Beaune, Meursault, Volnay, Pommard, Savigny-lès-Beaune and Chorey-lès-Beaune. Your heart really goes out to the growers who work so hard on their vines all year round only to have to stand helplessly by and watch as they lose the lot in a matter of hours.

After three lower-than-average vintages, Burgundy is facing supply pressures, exacerbated by a growing thirst for the region’s top wines in Asia.

It’s enough to drive you to drink. And that’s literally what our bus driver did as we visited Alain Coche of Domaine Coche-Bizouard in Meursault.

OLD-SCHOOL WINEMAKING IN THE BEST POSSIBLE SENSE
Alain is a winemaker of the old school and has recently handed over the reins to his son Fabien, although you get the impression that Alain still watches over things closely. We tasted through the 2012 vintage which was still in cask in their rather soulless modern air-conditioned warehouse.

Although Meursault has no grand crus, the quality of its premier crus are rarely surpassed in the Côte d’Or. What they do have is lieu dit or ‘named plots’ of particularly good land which is classified as village Meursault but actually sit somewhere between villages and premier cru. Alain gave us a tour.

Trying the Domaine Coche-Bizouard 2012s where Toby Morrhall (left) demonstrates bâtonnage or lees stirring with Alain Coche.

Trying the Domaine Coche-Bizouard 2012s where Toby Morrhall (left) demonstrates bâtonnage or lees stirring with Alain Coche.

The Meursault Les Chevalières 2012 is a classic example: wonderfully rich and round and opulent but retaining freshness too. The Meursault Les Charmes Premier Cru 2012 certainly lives up to its name. Even though the malolactic fermentation hadn’t finished it was richer still with lovely fat palate and glycerol. Outstanding.

Alain then boarded our coach and took us for a tour of the Meursault vines. This was the first time we had really got into the Côte d’Or itself, that magical hillside criss-crossed with priceless vineyards that, to quote the great Hugh Johnson, ‘In certain sites and certain years only, pinot noir and chardonnay achieve flavours valued as highly as any flavour on earth.’

The vineyards of Côte d’Or are the most classified in the world. This is because of the huge fragmentation of the land thanks to Napoleonic inheritance laws which decree that an estate should be divided equally among family members. Small holdings, therefore, get divided and subdivided over generations until a single vineyard may be owned by scores of different individual owners, each of them cultivating sometimes just a row or two of vines.

This is a problem and a blessing. It means that growers here tend to get their hands dirty and will often prune and care for their own vines. It also means that there is a huge variation in quality. The different techniques favoured by different growers means that two wines from the same vintage and the same vineyard can taste completely different. It’s a bit of a nightmare for buyers but it does offer a large amount of diversity and personality. I was trying to explain this to the youngest member of our group, a 21-year-old who had just joined The Society, and I felt very sorry for him. Burgundy is not the place to start if you want to understand the world of wine. Toby has done a brilliant job describing the eccentricities in his How to Buy Burgundy guide and I recommend it to you, whether you’re a Bourgogne pro or just starting out.

The dark Cistercian cellars below the Coche family home hide a treasure trove of outstanding Meursault

The dark Cistercian cellars below the Coche family home hide a treasure trove of outstanding Meursault

Having seen the vines, Alain invited us in to the dark Cistercian cellars below Fabien’s family home. And here he came alive. It’s wonderful to see a winemaker taking so much joy in sharing his outstanding wines with an appreciative audience in a gloriously atmospheric setting.

Wine after wine followed, all glorious interpretations of fat buttery opulent chardonnay. Meursault Les Chevalières 2011 comes from a lieu dit in the northern part of Meursault near Auxey-Duresses which has plenty of breadth and body and a lovely balance between richness and freshness. Meursault Le Limozin 2011 is another lieu dit below Les Charmes with the similar ability to match softness and succulence with thirst-quenching clarity and freshness.

These wines were such a contrast with the ones we had enjoyed in Chablis in the morning. Here fermentation and maturation in oak are the norm, techniques that give the wines their full colour and vanilla, toasty aromas and flavours. These are wines to go with food, local poulet de Bresse perhaps, or capon or cheese.

Meursault Les Luchets 2011 is another lieu dit high up the hill and tenser, leaner and more linear. The vineyard, or climat (literally a ‘climate’) as they call it here in the home of terroir, has more limestone and less clay creating a more mineral style. Meursault Les Charmes Premier Cru 2011 is still quite tight but full of promise. The balance of opulence and freshness, and the length are glorious. The oak here is perfectly integrated with lovely white-peach vigour.

Meursault Goutte d’Or Premier Cru 2011 was glorious – just like ‘little drops of gold’. A totally dry wine but the sensation and glycerol make it seem sweet. Lovely buttery length but there’s a vibrancy too that prevents it being too flabby. Tasting the Meursault Charmes Premier Cru 2010 got us thinking about when it is best to drink these wines. This was a great wine but a baby still – there was almost electricity running through it. Toby said that he thought this was perhaps the wine of the vintage.

Toby is convinced that Diam corks are the way ahead and that they have given him more confidence to predict longer futures for white Burgundy than he had dared to recently. See Toby’s article for more details.

To back up what a fabulous vintage 2010 is, Alain opened a bottle of his Meursault Goutte d’Or Premier Cru which had a glorious opulence and almost caramel richness.

We were already overrunning and Toby, worried about our dinner reservation, was trying to hurry the old master along. Alain wasn’t having any of it. ‘Encore une bouteille!’ he would say as he reached into his racks and pulled out another bottle of golden nectar.

There weren’t too many complaints.

Next up was Meursault Les Charmes Premier Cru 2006 which showed a slight touch of botrytis with its aromas of honey, barley sugar and caramel. It was slightly overripe but glorious.

Just one more, he said. Meursault Les Charmes Premier Cru 2004 which was, he said, ‘slightly bizarre’. 2004 was a tricky vintage but the mark of a good vigneronne is to make good wine in ‘bad’ years. This was rich with great structure, depth and acidity. Sumptuous texture.

The Society’s Emma Dorahy trying to convince everyone that she wasn’t even born in 1974

The Society’s Emma Dorahy trying to convince everyone that she wasn’t even born in 1974

He then disappeared out the back and returned with a twinkle in his eye and a label-less bottle. It was Meursault Goutte d’Or Premier Cru 1974, and of all the treats I’ve enjoyed working in the wine business over the years, this was the sweetest. The aroma I can still smell now was the perfect combination of buttered toast, orange peel and honey. Just absolutely glorious. And proves how the best wines will keep and keep and keep.

What a wine to end on, and what a lovely person to enjoy it with. They don’t make them like Alain anymore, more’s the pity.

That night over dinner, (a fine Saint-Aubin Premier Cru En Remilly Marc Colin, 2010 and a Marsannay, Domaine Denis Mortet which showed all the power and finesse of the wonderful 2005 red vintage, since you ask) we all agreed that the ‘74 Meursault had been the wine of the day.

Next up was the chardonnays of the south in Pouilly-Fuissé.

Categories : Burgundy, France

Comments

  1. Hugh says:

    Where did you eat?

  2. Peter Wenham says:

    Hugh [belatedly]: on the first night we ate at Bistro de l’Hotel, 3 rue Samuel Legay [with Roy Richards and his wife].

    The third night was truly memorable & I can’t better Paul’s description in his notes of “a grand dinner in the marvellous Couvent des Jacobins” used byJadot for entertaining special guests [I think even Toby has only eaten there once before!]. I can only add that even for those of us lucky to visit Beaune regularly, this was a pure joy &, as Matt Holford said [see Paul’s notes] “this was a glorious finale”.

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