Thu 27 Oct 2016

Tasting 2013 Red Burgundy with the Great and the Good

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I am part of a group, originally formed by Clive Coates, now retired, that meets twice a year to taste Burgundy blind from bottle.

The group comprises journalists Neal Martin (e-Robert Parker) and Neil Beckett (World of Fine Wine), and wine merchants Roy Richards (formerly Richards Walford), Jasper Morris (BBR), Zubair Mohamed (Raeburn Fine Wines), Lindsay Hamilton (ex Farr Vintners), Giles Burke-Gaffney (J&B), Julie Richards (own company), Jason Haynes (Flint Wines), Christopher Moestue (own company in Norway) and Adam Bruntlett (BBR).

burgundy-tasting-goup

The process, its challenges and rewards:
We last met in September to taste 244 red premiers and grands crus Burgundies from the 2013 vintage, arranged in 38 flights, where the identity of flight is known, perhaps Pommard Rugiens, but not the producer.

It is probably the most useful, informative and challenging tasting of the year. It is very difficult to line up a comprehensive selection of Burgundy because the wines are so rare and in such demand they disappear into wine lovers’ cellars as soon as they are sold. We mark out of 20 and then discuss the wines before revealing who made them. Everyone shares their knowledge and views and I learn much from my peers during this tasting.

Burgundy is very challenging to assess. Marks may vary considerably between scorers as Burgundy is one of the most diverse wines in terms of style. Partly because the owner is usually winemaker and viticulturist, rather than a hired hand as is more usual in, say, Bordeaux, you get risk-taking owners each with their own view about how to make wine. This is why we recommend you choose producer before appellation.

As a taster you are confronted with a wide range of styles and you have to judge a wine’s quality, how it will develop and its character (ie. whether the wine is typical of its appellation).

How do you mark a rich, dark, oaky and powerful wine in an appellation like Chambolle, which one expects elegance and grace? It often comes down to a philosophical view of what one expects from a particular appellation and a judgement of how it measures up.

Just looking at the colours in a single flight they can range from black, usually a sign of over-extraction of colour and tannin, or oxidation, to very pale and light, often a sign the wine was made with whole bunches. Wines made with whole bunches absorb the colour in the stems, hence the pale colour, and are usually softer and less acid as potassium in the stems precipitates some of the acidity. But if done badly with underripe stems one can get a load of green, harsh tannins on the palate. Whole-bunch wines may smell a little vegetal in youth, but can develop a remarkable aromatic complexity with age.

One can see how an enormous variation in opinion can develop if one considers just the aspect of wines made with whole bunches compared to destemmed wines. There are those who like wines with whole bunches as they believe they are capable of a type of aromatic complexity with bottle age that destemmed wines are not. Others are not so keen, and see any green, herbaceous aroma as detrimental. A very light wine can be divisive as some admire the purity and delicacy while others may judge it as a good wine now yet perhaps without the ability to mature and develop further complexity.

Conversely, a dark wine, perhaps with significant presence of new oak can split the group, some looking to the future and betting it will come round while others decide the contrary. In one’s mind ‘demons’ can encourage second guessing! Is this one of those superb producers whose wines show their ugly side in their youth, but develop into graceful swans later, or is it just badly made?

Whilst the marking is of interest, the great benefit of tasting as a group are the discussions we have about these wines after marking and before we reveal who made them. The group contains some brilliant Burgundy experts who generously share their knowledge and experience. Listening to how members of the group judge and reason can be very instructive and revealing. It is a wonderful learning environment.

Blind tasting:
Seen by some as the best way to taste, blind tasting has its advantages and disadvantages. It is at is most useful where one is comparing like with like, which is how our tasting is arranged with wines from the same vintage and cru or a small mix of similar crus. However, even with 6-9 wines, the usual size of the flights, one must beware of how the order of the wines can influence your tasting. If you taste a big and powerful wine followed by a lighter wine, unless you have ‘perfect pitch’ (ie the ability to re-gauge your palate after tasting each wine), you may perceive the light wine as much lighter than it in in reality as you may be making a ‘relative’ rather than ‘absolute’ judgement by comparing it to an unusually powerful wine.

The French call the big wine that succeeds in blind tastings la bête du concours, the beast of the tasting competition. Particularly during a long tasting, when one may become a little tired, and tannin build-up can affect one’s tasting where red wines are involved, one is less well able to judge the more delicate and elegant wines. I have been to celebratory competition dinners where the prize winners are served and while one sip can be impressive, occasionally one doesn’t want to have a second glass of the crowned champion! Sometimes less is more and too much is too much! I usually taste in one order, and then again in a different one. Finally, after marking them, I go through the flight again in ascending order of points awarded.

The results: what came out well?
2013 was a cool year with significant hail in the Côte de Beaune, so generally is was the richer, fuller appellations that did best. Nuits-St-Georges, Gevrey-Chambertin and Vosne-Romanée stood out. Global warming has really benefited Nuits-St-Georges, especially the southern premiers crus which are more tannic. The extra heat is softening and sweetening the tannins. Vosne-Romanée was very successful, both at premier and grand cru level. As a group Echezeaux, not always our favourite appellation, showed very well.

The top 20 red Burgundy 2013s as marked by the group were as follows, in descending order:

• La Romanée, Comte Liger Belair
• Romanée St Vivant, Follin Arbelet
• Richebourg, Domaine Jean Grivot
• La Grande Rue, Domaine François Lamarche
• Musigny, Domaine JF Mugnier
• Richebourg, A-F Gros
• Chambertin, Domaine Armand Rousseau
• Chambertin, Camille Giroud
• Echezeaux, Domaine Jean Grivot
• Chambolle Musigny Les Amoureuses, Robert Groffier
• Musigny, Domaine de la Vougeraie
• Gevrey Chambertin Clos St Jacques, Domaine Armand Rousseau
• Latricières-Chambertin, Domaine Duroché
• Grands Echezeaux, Domaine du Clos Frantin, Bichot
• Chambolle Musigny Les Amoureuses, Domaine JF Mugnier
• Chambolle Musigny Les Amoureuses, Domaine Georges Roumier
• Chambertin, Domaine du Clos Frantin, Bichot
• Echezeaux, Comte Liger Belair
• Mazis-Chambertin, Domaine Maume-Tawse
• Gevrey Chambertin Clos St Jacques Vieilles Vignes, Domaine Fourrier

Toby Morrhall
Society Buyer

Visit our website for a selection of red Burgundy for drinking now, selected from a tasting conducted by Toby and spanning vintages between 1995–2012.

• For more information on the region, we highly recommend Toby’s comprehensive How To Buy Burgundy Guide.

Categories : Burgundy, France

Comments

  1. Paul Kidd says:

    Toby,
    Thoroughly enjoyed reading this instructive article.
    rgds
    paul

  2. John McErlean says:

    We have just returned from a four day break in Beaune in the heart of Burgundy. I am sure that there are very fine wines to be found there but, quite frankly, we found the local offerings to be grossly overpriced and of dubious quality. For example €19 for a half bottle of an alleged Premier Cru. Chilean wines at a fraction of the price are much better value. It is noteworthy that in the latest Society price list it states that while the Society’s red burgundy is a best seller it also attracts the highest number of acerbic comments. Beaune in our opinion has been spoiled by Americans and the newly affluent Chinese hence the inflated prices although in fairness we found restaurant prices to be reasonable, possibly due to the intense competition.

  3. Robin Worth says:

    California may not reach the heights of Burgundy, but offers far better value

    But it is a shame that the Society’s offer of Californian pinot noir is so poor in quality, quantity and value for money

    The buyers could do worse than look at Waitrose!

    • Sarah Knowles MW says:

      Thanks for your feedback, and we’re happy to inform you that several new California pinots are coming into stock soon. Further to the new listing of Schug in our Explore USA offer we will soon be offering wines from Au Bon Climat, Lompoc, Domaine de la Côte and Hirsch.
      Sarah Knowles MW
      Buyer for North America

  4. Stephen Chapman says:

    Thank you Toby for posting this. Very instructive after attending the Giants of the World of wine with Sebastian Payne and Sarah Knowles tasting, at which Burgundy was represented by an 11 year old Premier Cru Chaignots which was a cracking silky wine, in colour still almost opaque, a lovely but dark wine indeed!

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