As I suspected, the hundreds of 2011 burgundies hawked on London tasting tables in the past two weeks seemed, in general, rather less vivid than those I’d tasted at the end of November at some of the Côte d’Or’s finest addresses.
This is clearly a vintage where the best wines will be highly appreciated by lovers of fine, expressive burgundy, but there are many lesser wines that seem a bit thin and weedy if red, or watery if white. Few 2011s have a real persistence in the mouth and hardly any wines I tasted in London were thrilling enough to get a really high score from me. That said, the whites seemed to have withstood the journey from Burgundy rather better than the reds, perhaps because a high proportion have already been safely put into bottle in their finished form. Many of the red wine samples were drawn from cask before Christmas, and given a squirt of sulphur to stabilise them before being put into bottles. It’s a wonder that they showed as well as they did.
It is interesting to see how white burgundy has evolved over recent years. The wines, like Chardonnays around the world, have slimmed down considerably. It is extremely rare now to taste anything either fat or oaky, and even the more concentrated 2011 whites are, in general, fine-boned and taut. As Jean-Marc Roulot of Meursault, one of the most talented and thoughtful makers of white wine on the Côte de Beaune, pointed out, the alcohol levels in his 2011s varied from 12.5 per cent to 13.1 per cent, whereas in the much-later-picked, riper 2010 vintage they had been at least 13.5 per cent, with some as high as 13.9 per cent naturally, without any sugar added to the fermentation vat.
Thanks to backing from some American burgundy lovers, Roulot, along with his friend Dominique Lafon up the road, has been able to continue to add to his vineyard holdings, and both of them have been extending their cellars. On the other side of the village, another talented Meursault producer with a more recent reputation, Arnaud Ente, is also able to demonstrate physical evidence of his success in the form of an extremely cool, modern, even rather glamorous tasting room – quite a contrast to my first tastings here on a corner of the kitchen table. Both Roulot and Ente make particularly finely etched wines year after year – indeed, I feel Ente’s personal style of winemaking is so strong that it is almost as evident in his least expensive wines as in his grandest. But this was a rare exception to the rule that 2011, in general, is good at showing tasteable differences between vineyards.
Two irreproachable sources of really fine, precise, ageworthy white burgundy are the world-famous Domaine Jean-François Coche-Dury of Meursault and the up-and-coming negociant Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey of Chassagne-Montrachet. A clear sense of evolution is in the air at both. Jean-François’ son, Raphaël, is now making the wine chez Coche, with little perceptible change to the style. Kremlinologists may be trying to discern one and perhaps they have taken on just a little more weight, but in essence the wines remain some of the purest, longest-lasting white burgundies of all, right down to the most modest Bourgogne Aligoté. Raphaël had been called away to a growers’ meeting to discuss the vine wood diseases about which I wrote two weeks ago, so my early evening tasting was conducted by his wife, Charlene (and his even more loquacious two-year-old son, Mathieu, who already seemed thoroughly at home in the cellar).
The list of those seeking allocations of Coche white burgundies is already wildly oversubscribed, but it may not be too late to secure some Colin-Morey wines. Pierre-Yves, son of Marc Colin, has very much gone his own way, adding carefully to his own vineyards with a small roster of handpicked growers from whom he buys. His wines are as intense as he is; another Côte de Beaune producer to have moved his wine showroom out of his kitchen to separate premises, he seems utterly dedicated to making the wines better every year.
With the small amount of red wine he makes from Santenay and Volnay vines, Pierre-Yves has been experimenting with a hugely labour-intensive method copied from Lalou Bize-Leroy at Domaine Leroy in Vosne-Romanée, whereby each grape is individually snipped, so that the pedicel – but not the bunch stem – goes into the fermentation vat. He claims that preparing the grapes for his three barrels of Santenay from 100-year-old vines took 30 people five hours. “Madmen’s work,” he calls it, but the result is certainly a wine with much more intensity than the average 2011 Côte de Beaune red.
Because Pierre-Yves has been unwilling to submit samples to the village hall-style tastings favoured by the best-known French wine critics, he is not that well known in France and one of the best sources of his wine is A&B Vintners of Kent (tel +44 (0)1892 724977). Like the equally fussy Jean-Marc Vincent of Santenay, Pierre-Yves Colin is a big fan of the small cooper Chassin of Rully, whose work he describes as “haute couture”. He particularly values having individual barrels genuinely made to order by Chassin and his family.
Another sign of propitious evolution in this year’s London burgundy tastings was in the range of growers represented by Flint Wines. In total, more than 20 UK wine importers held tastings in London in an attempt to persuade their customers to invest in 2011 burgundy. There is enormous overlap of the established growers between most of these importers. Trying to edit tasting sheets so that one does not taste the same wine three times can be a bit like a game of Pelmanism. But Flint seems to have been more energetic than most in seeking out some new names – producers whose wines are also generally defined by being a little more energetic (and sometimes lighter) than most. Choice is good, especially with 2011.
See tasting notes on 2011 burgundies on Purple Pages of JancisRobinson.com
Recommended producers of 2011s
Daniel & Julien Barraud
Henri Boillot (whites)
Clos de Tart
Dom de Montille
Fernand & Laurent Pillot
Dom de la Romanée-Conti
Dom des Tilleuls