Showing posts with label Hudelot-Noëllat. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hudelot-Noëllat. Show all posts

Thursday, August 26, 2010

2004 Burgundy Red Wine - How Bad is it?

It is commonly said that 2004 is the worst recent vintage for red wine in Burgundy. The weather was not good - lots of rain and a lot of rot. But that in itself is probably not the biggest problem with the 2004's. As Bill Nanson of Burgundy Report first wrote about, ladybugs were all over the vineyards in 2004. I heard that they were released to combat some or other aphid, but I cannot substantiate that claim. In any case, when ladybugs are trying to attract a mate or are under duress, they release a chemical of a class called methoxy-pyrazines. This chemical can cause off aromas in wine that are often described as green. But not in the unripe sense, in otherwise ripe wines, it is a vegetal, raw cedar, seaweedy, unpleasant aroma and taste. Anyway, the ladybugs, and if not the bugs then the chemicals they released, ended up mixed in with the grapes as they fermented. Not in every wine, obviously, but in some - perhaps as many as 30% of total red wines were affected.

I bought some 2004 wines. I was feeling rather pessimistic about their potential until a few months ago when Peter Wasserman told me that the wines are improving, losing the smell. I decided that I wanted to explore the 2004's - are they really as bad as they're supposed to be? So I got together with a group of Burgundy loving friends who all dug deeply into their cellars and we drank a load of wine - top producers, from villages to Grand Cru.

Here are the wines we drank, in the order that we drank them with our dinner:

Jean-Marc Morey Beaune 1er Cru Grèves.
François Gaunoux Pommard 1er Cru Rugiens.
JF Mugnier Chambolle-Musigny.
Ghislaine Barthod Chambolle-Musigny.
Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin.
Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Cherbaudes.
Sylvie Esmonin Gevrey-Chambertin Vieille Vignes.
Robert Chevillon Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru Les Chaignots.
Mugneret-Gibourg Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru Les Chaignots.
Sylvain Cathiard Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru Aux Murgers.
Robert Chevillon Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru Les Pruliers.
Robert Chevillon Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru Les Saint-Georges.
Hudelot-Noëllat Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Beaumonts.
Hudelot-Noëllat Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Suchots.
Hudelot-Noëllat Vosne-Romanée Grand Cru Romanée St. Vivant.
Jean Tardy Echezeaux Vieille Vignes.

I have no tasting notes to share with you because I didn't take any, but you can read Keith Levenberg's notes here. I want to share some thoughts, though.

People generally agreed that the wines showed better than expected. There were a few that I would call excellent wines, wines that lived up to their potential in a difficult vintage. At the same time, people said that they wouldn't run to the stores to buy them. There were some delicious wines that seemed to me to be in perfect place for drinking. The Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin, for example - I thought it was great. I liked its clarity and purity, its clean and very pretty fruit. I thought it showcased Fourrier's sheer and elegant style. I also thought Morey's Beaune Grèves was in a good spot for immediate drinking. And although the oak was more prominent than I might like, I thought that Mugnier's Chambolle was a lovely wine.

And the thing is, some of the others at the table experienced those wines completely differently. I didn't hear anything negative about the Fourrier wine, but I did hear some say that the Beaune was too oaky, and that the Mugnier wine was clunky, that they preferred the Barthod Chambolle. Hmmm, I found the Barthod wine to be essentially undrinkable. The roasted seaweed and vegetal aromas were just too much for me. But others liked the wine, and I love the fact that this whole thing is complicated enough so that a group of people sharing the same bottles could have such a diverse take on them.

Some of the wines showed the off aromas and flavors that 2004 is accused of. I found the Barthod Chambolle to be the greatest offender, but the two Chaignots and Hudelot-Noëllat's Beaumonts also showed green to me. I thought the Pommard was affected too, but others disagreed, saying that it was just the odd expression of minerality in a good young Pommard Rugiens. I was not convinced. Until I drank the leftovers on day three and the wine was absolutely lovely - crushed stones and flowers, with no traces of green. There may have been others that were affected and I missed them - not everyone agreed with me when I thought a wine smelled or tasted green.

Some of the wines greatly improved over the course of a few days, shedding bulk, gaining definition. For example, I wasn't moved by Sylvie Esmonin's Gevrey Chambertin during our dinner. I found it to be a big wine that didn't show much other than ripe fruit. But on day three it was far more articulate, showing intensity and detail, and a lovely earthy finish. The wines that initially showed green aromas and flavors, however, did not lose those aromas and flavors over the course of several days. Perhaps the 2004 green wines will not lose the green?

The group seemed to agree that 2004 is a vintage in which the quality of the wines very closely adheres to the relative nobility of terroir. For example, as good as the Fourrier villages wine was, its 1er Cru counterpart showed that much more nuance and distinction. I thought this wine was just excellent, and if I owned any I would cellar it for another 8 years or so, the way I would any good 1er Cru from a good producer.

Similarly, Chevillon's 1er Cru Pruliers was good. But Les Saint-Georges was a great wine, a wine that in my opinion was everything Les Saint-Georges is supposed to be - full of ripe and rich dark fruit, perfectly structured and balanced, and with lots of depth and complexity that is just beginning to hint at itself at this early stage in its life.

Hudelot-Noëllat's 1er Cru Suchots was good, especially on days two and three, but the Grand Cru was a very big step up. I thought that it, along with Les Saint-Georges, were the two finest wines on the table.

So, 2004 Burgundy Red Wine - How Bad is it? At this point I would say this: not as bad as you might think. Focus on the wines from the best terroirs. Give the wines time to develop like you would in a typical vintage. And if you have a wine that was affected by the greenies, it might be a simple case of bad luck - doesn't seem like the green aromas are going anywhere, not any time soon, at least.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


I drank a bottle of wine the other night that was fantastic as any bottle I've had. I should say right off that you will most likely not be able to buy this, should you wish to, and I know that can be annoying. It's a back vintage of a wine that is very expensive and difficult to find even when new vintages are released. But I want to share my experience with it anyway because it was so thrilling.

Malconsorts is the southern most 1er cru in Vosne-Romanée, right on the border with Nuits St. Georges. Directly to the north is the legendary La Tâche, the Grand Cru vineyard owned entirely by the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Some of the Malconsorts vines are actually located in La Tâche, almost surrounded.

Photo courtesy of Sylvain Pitiot & Pierre Poupon's Atlas des Grands Vignobles de Bourgogne.

You can see the small rectangular plot at the south-eastern end (south is left in this picture) of La Tâche - an arrow indicates that the plot is part of Malconsorts. The areas marked number 5 in black circles are the three parcels that together make up Les Gaudichots, a tiny but remarkable 1er Cru that used to be very large, containing much of what is now La Tâche. There are several great 1er crus in Vosne-Romanée, Malconsorts is just one of them. You can read more about these vineyards in the Vosne-Romanée Village Profile at Burgundy Report.

It's pretty safe to say that I will not anytime soon be buying and drinking La Tâche. But Malconsorts is not a bad substitute, and although it's way too expensive for me to purchase with any regularity, if I could drink one bottle a year I would be immensely pleased. I drank a bottle the other night, the 1998 Hudelot-Noellat, and it was absolutely amazing.

1998 Alain Hudelot-Noellat Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Malconsorts, $75 at auction, Old Vine Imports. The fruit is rich and dark and there complex spice aromas too, but these descriptions are two dimensional and don't do the wine justice. There is a thrilling amplitude and depth to the aromas. Thrilling as in thrilling. I'm not using a hyperbolic adjective for the mere sake of doing so. I was thrilled by this wine! The nose had so many dimensions, and such incredible clarity and detail. The palate is perfectly balanced, and still shows good acidity - it is not yet fully resolved, and this wine probably hasn't even peaked yet. This wine is a true gift, and I wish that anyone who loves Burgundy could have been there to share it.

It's wines like this that make me question everything about the way I bought Burgundy over the past three years. One bottle of the current vintage (if you can find it) costs the same as two bottles of some or other villages wine, but for me, this wine offers far more pleasure than those two villages bottles ever can. I would happily trade in all my villages wine for far fewer bottles of this Malconsorts, or bottles from other top 1er Crus. My new strategy: drink far less Burgundy of far higher quality, and buy great wine from other places when I'm spending $25-$45.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

By the Glass - Burgundy Complaints Edition

It is almost cliché to say that Burgundy is a crap shoot, every bottle a roll of the dice. But that's because it's true. Price and quality can have a rather distant relationship, and there can be great variations in climate just within one village. Which part of Volnay was hit by hail in 2001? Better check on that before spending $75 on a Lafarge Clos du Château des Ducs. Was it northern or southern Vosne-Romanée that got heavy rain and then a lot of rot in 2006? Best to find out before spending your $80 on Hudelot-Noëllat's Malconsorts - maybe Les Suchots should be better.

If you're into Burgundy, you know I'm not kidding or exaggerating. Malconsorts and Suchots are within a stone's throw of one another (if a major league ball player were throwing the stone), but they will always produce different wines - and that's a terroir issue. I'm talking about weather problems like hail or heavy rain or some other climatic stress, when a producer makes adjustments in the vineyards and sometimes in the cellar, and makes the best wines they can. But when the best they can is merely decent or average wine, (or very good wine that you got a bad bottle of), it's still Lafarge Clos du Château des Ducs or Hudelot-Noëllat Les Suchots, and it still costs $75.

For folks like me who buy two or three bottles per year at that price, it's a matter of risk reduction. I choose solid producers, and then wines from vineyards that interest me and that are not mentioned in bad weather reports. I do exactly the same thing when buying Burgundy wine in the $20-40 zone, the range that I tend to live in. And it's just as much of a guessing game in the end. Lauded vintages don't always translate to great wines, and so on.

Why do I keep doing it, although I feel like I "waste" more money on Burgundy that I do anywhere else? Because I fell so hard for the exquisite wines I've drank, that I continue to chase that feeling. And you never know where you'll find that feeling - a $25 bottle of Bourgogne can be exquisite.

Here are some wines that I've had recently at home with meals, some disappointing, others surprisingly good. I'll list them in descending order by price, and you'll see how frustrating the whole thing can be:

2001 Philippe Pacalet Pommard, $45. I bought two bottles because I served this wine to friends during their birthday dinner. On that night it seemed a bit tired and lifeless. We didn't need the 2nd bottle that evening, and opened it a month later without expectations. It was absolutely delicious - zesty and fresh with beautifully clean fruit, and with almost completely resolved tannins that made the whole thing feel luxurious and soft. But I spent $90 on these two bottles, and only one of them was worth it.

2004 Hudelot-Noëllat Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Beaux Monts, $43. When we opened it it seemed like it was going to be utterly gorgeous, an explosion of vibrant dark fruit and earthy spice. But it was all downhill from there with a dilute mid-palate, and after two hours open it was marred by a distinct ashtray type of smell that rendered it essentially undrinkable to me. This wine suffered from a case of under-ripe tannins, and no amount of cellaring can fix that. By the way, my friend whose house I brought this wine to really liked it, and he has a great palate, so what do I know.

2002 Domaine René Engel Vosne-Romanée, $28. Yes, laugh with me at that price. It's essentially impossible to find any village Vosne wine these days for under $40. 2002 is supposed to be such a great year, and this is a good producer (although that reputation grew under a different wine maker). Pleasant dark fruit and soil aromas, a bit of volatile acidity that blows off quickly, some underbrush shows with air. Pleasant and tasty wine, but not complex, and the simplicity becomes a distraction for me. For whatever it's worth, I'm not sure that there is much of a Vosne stamp either.

2005 Lafouge Auxey-Duresses 1er Cru Les Duresses, $27. I liked this wine when it was first released and full of dried leaves. Now the fruit is more prominent, and it's even better. There is still underbrush and some lovely spice too. Great wine, and makes me excited for the other 1er Crus from Lafouge that are sleeping in my cellar.

2005 Domaine des Croix Bourgogne, $25. I loved this wine when I drank it a year ago, but this time it was dominated by wood. And I wonder, can this much wood really integrate? Some would say it can, but I am reminded of something that Jeremy Seysses of Domaine Dujac said in December when leading us through his 2007's in barrel - he thinks that ripe vintages do not take to wood as well as other vintages, that the oak integrates better in the long term in a vintage like 2006 over 2005. If I'm misrepresenting what he said, hopefully Peter or Tista will read this and correct me.

2005 Catherine et Claude Maréchal Bourgogne Cuvée Gravel, $25. I am a fan of this producer, but this wine was simply too ripe. It came across as sweet and out of balance, with awfully prominent alcohol considering the 13% on the label. The 2007 is beautiful and balanced, a wine of grace and interest, and it's the same price.

2005 René LeClerc Bourgogne, $25. Needs a decant or just time for the carbon dioxide to find its way out of the wine. Very pure and good intensity of fruit, and shows an orange zest earthiness that for me is very Gevrey-Chambertin. A very lovely wine. Why is this 2005 Bourgogne lovely and the above two not as lovely, my personal taste aside? Leclerc's Bourgogne vines are in Gevrey somewhere, and perhaps they experienced more favorable climate than the Savigny-based vines of Maréchal or the Beaune and Pommard based vines of Des Croix.

2006 René LeClerc Bourgogne, $19. Drinkable, but not a successful wine. The aromatic profile is heavy with underbrush, and the fruit never really asserts itself. The palate is light bodied and rustic - a bit muddy almost.

2004 Dureuil-Janthial Rully Maizières
, $18. 2004 was a difficult vintage for reds that deservedly has a mediocre reputation, and although the region's wines have been improving, the Côte Chalonnaise as a whole is not particularly distinguished terroir. I took a shot on this wine because the producer is one of the best in the Côte Chalonnaise, and because the price seemed reasonable. And it of course defied all expectations and was completely delicious with bright fruit, nice acidity, a bit of earthiness, and fully resolved tannins. Had I only known, I would have bought two bottles instead of the Hudelot-Noëllat and still saved a couple of bucks.

If you can truly figure out this whole Burgundy thing, then more power to you.