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.


ned said...

Isn't the ashtray "aroma" a sulphur issue? That's my impression, and I suppose eventually (years) it dissipates. I think sometimes people call it "barrel char" which is understandable but actually not the case.

What seems to be most overlooked with regard to Burgundy are two things that you need lots of in order to mitigate frustration, time and money, the more of those things you have and the less worried about them you are, the more able you will be to enjoy Burgundy, IMO.

Anonymous said...

tried to subscribe to your "blog by email", however says link is broken?

Brooklynguy said...

hey ned - could be, but this was different from what i know sulfur to smell like. and yes, money...money. but you know from reading this blog that i enjoy burgundy very much. it's just variable and potentially quite frustrating, that's all.

anon - i don't know what happened for you, but i just tested it an it works fine. try again?

Wicker Parker said...

Case study in why I rarely toss my wallet towards Burgundy. The bottle variation on the Pacalet has to be particularly frustrating (a factor not limited to Burgundy; Heredia's reds can show similar variation, from slightly tired to spectacular).

The Lafouge note is very useful to me, as I have two of their '05 1er crus sleeping now -- thanks a lot.

David McDuff said...

Hey Neil,
Have you tried multiple bottles of the '06 LeClerc Bourgogne or just one? I'm curious as my experience with the '05 was more like yours with the '06 (than yours with the '05). It makes me wonder whether it may be a question of bottle variation (or damage as I suspected with my '05) rather than vintage expression. Then again, maybe I'm just over thinking things....

Director, Lab Outreach said...

I think there's some interesting cultural/philosophical currents running underneath this along the lines of we go to farmer's markets for food but we buy wine shipped across the Atlantic and/or don't we have to expect some bottle variation in this price-range for wines made at that distance from our table given global transportation realities... but I'm too jet lagged to make much sense about any of it.

So instead I'll just say, I was amused to read this post just after I saw a 2001 Lafarge Clos du Château des Ducs at winebid.com. As is my habit, I checked the CT notes before making a bid. Your notes talked me out of placing one!

Also, while Dureuil-Janthial is hard to say, I've had great luck with this producer. Most of the holdings are in "lesser" villages (Rully, Mercury) but I think Vincent Dureuil is a great winemaker and super serious about his vineyard work. We drank a few of his Rully (also tricky to pronounce) wines last time in Burgundy and they were fantastic, drinking way above their price point. Maybe it's the thick glass in the D-J bottles, but I've found them to be consistently good.

Nice post.



Brooklynguy said...

hi guys! it's like we're sitting around together yakking in a wine bar or something. Mike - this is just s complaints edition. don't get me wrong, it's mostly all love for Burgundy. And i'm actually getting better at risk reduction too, so my splurge bottles of the last two years should be better than those before them. toss your wallet, you know you want to. and cheers to lafouge. i have one bottle of 81 LdH - keep your fingers crossed for me.

McDee - merely one bottle, so it is true that the wine could be better than what i drank. i hope it is.

JD - i agree - we have to expect variation in wine, it's like a living thing and it's moody. but when wines are rare and pricey, it hurts even more (not like i'm drinking the rare or the pricey ones, but still). don't you find Burgundy to be more of a crapshoot than other places? and be careful about listening to me. you might like that Lafarge wine. i'm definitely trying more Dureuil-Janthial, which i'm not sure that i pronounce correctly. but i do pronounce Rully correctly. Like 'Bully," right? jesting, merely jesting. and nice word verification.

Tista said...

Concerning your Domaine des Croix 2005 comment.
This was, I think, his first vintage? So bit too much oak could be blamed on the excitement of starting off with these vineyards in a vinage like 2005.
Generally I am extremely impressed with the 06 and 07's.

Regarding Jeremy Seysses's very notable comment. I validate your transcript of his theory that vintages like 2007 (or 2006) take better to oak than riper vintages, but I don't think that this applies to vintages that are lighter in tannin, like 2004 don't you think?

Cliff said...

Sorry to hear about the uneven results. I have stayed away from Pacalet based on price. I always thought of ash as a wood thing, but I honestly don't know.

I have never had less than terrific wine from Dureuil-Janthial or Lafouge. They make me wonder why I chase more expensive bottles.

Cliff said...

Speaking of variability, I'd have to say the Loire is more variable, given a much higher per capita hipster population. The Côtes d'Or is just too expensive for that kind of experimentation.

Brooklynguy said...

tista - it was his first vintage and i liked the 07s very much too. and who knows whether or not the 05 bourgogne will wear its oak well sometime down the road? what you say about tannins - you mean under-ripe tannins in 2004? makes sense i guess.

hey cliff - but pacalet is so good, profound on a different level from what i've had from lafouge (who i LOVE) and dureuil-janthial. but yes, prices are double to begin with. i'm so curious to know the expensive stuff you chase...and on the loire, the stuff i drink seems more consistent than the Burg stuff i drink. and when i get a bad bottle of Baudry, it hurts, but i spend $30 on the top bottle.

Michael Powers said...

Hey, new poster/reader here. I too am a burg chaser, and like all I have my tales of the minefield. Thanks for giving me some producers to try out though. As for '04 I still think that the jury is out. Take a producer like Gouges -who I love - and most people hate his '04's, but I have had a couple that rock, and a couple that maybe show that green streak, but maybe I shouldn't even be drinking that now, so I put the rest down for a decade, because its Gouges. Maybe only time will tell there. In any case, with the risk in '04 being higher than ever, followed by the ballyhooed '05, I find that you can get some pretty nice '04's for really good prices, which maybe makes it worth the risk on aging.


Anonymous said...

I've only just had my first off bottle of Baudey recently. It hurt b/c I paid up for an older version, but, in general, I agree. But wines from Puzelat, which can be great, can also get funky. For me, Courtois has been more funky than not.

On chasing Burgundy, alas, I've had to stop, at least for now. In 2005, I bought two bottles of Angerville's Taillepieds and a very few of Fourrier's less exalted wines. He is making wine right in my stylistic sweet spot. In days of yore, I chased the odd bottle of Roumier, Dujac, Mugnier, and Rousseau. But not for awhile. I am sure I would love Pacalet, but I can't swallow the prices asked and am trying not to develop any more bad habbits. It does seem that Angerville may be coming back within reach.


Brooklynguy said...

hi michael powers, and welcome. i agree on 04 - medicore reputation but the jury is still out. for me, in practice, i haven't loved the wines. but i haven't yet had the ones i plan on cellaring (mugnier, fourrier). we'll see.

cliff - interesting on puzelat and courtois. i have been told that puzelat's wines are SO MUCH better in france, before shipping. they are un or low sulfured, and are easily messed with via transport. i imagine this leads to lots of variability, which I have experienced for sure. Courtois, as you say, i just don't get. but again, i hear that in france the wines are quite good.

i'm with you on fourrier, don't have any d'angerville experience to speak of, although i did buy one bottle of the 06 fremiers just so i don't stay totally ignorant. by the way, the 07 pacalets were gorgeous. if prices drop a bit, i'd say they're a good value.

Cliff said...

I really should break down and try Pacalet. They just seem to be priced at least an appellation above my threshold whenever I've come close -- that is, I might pay x for a nice premier, and they're asking that or more for villages. I have thing about having a producer's pride and joy from an overlooked plot, rather than the village wine of a more famous maker. This approach, I realize, is not entirely consistent or rational. But it is what it is. Not quite appellationism, but something like it. If they come down a bit, I will definitely bite.

Angerville is probably the producer most responsible for my Burgundy problem.

I agree that transport is hard on wine and all the more so with minimally messed-with versions. I spend a fair amount of time in France -- I'm in Lyon now -- and, even here, from reputable shops who take care of storage, I've had wildly variable Puzelat. I think it goes with the territory. When they're on, they are lovely. Like you, I'm less taken with Courtois, and most of my bottles have been in France.

Director, Lab Outreach said...

Less like sitting around a wine bar now, and more like our own private bulletin board. I think it's interesting that this topic produced so much... interest.

I think the no sulfur and transport is a REAL issue. I think it's Joly's problem as well. Or rather MY problem when I buy his chenins - which I've reluctantly stopped doing.

There's two Courtois. Father and son. Based on a few different bottles, I'd say their both a little crazy. The father is crazy crazy. But I find the son to be crazy interesting. But they both suffer from the same no sulfur philosophy equals bottle variability equation. And the Dad must have a very high threshold for brett; how else to explain some his releases.


Director, Lab Outreach said...

I need some serious help with proof-reading... (stecrem)

Brooklynguy said...

hi cliff - you know, why rush out for Pacalet? you clearly know what you're doing - you'll either taste the wines somewhere or a friend will open a bottle. they are awfully expensive to go in on blind. why are you in Lyon, by the way? are you involved in wine business somehow?

JD - transport even with sulfur is a real issue. why surprised about the comments on this topic? i think your proof reading is top notche.

Director, Lab Outreach said...

There's a their that should be they're. I'm a little OCD.

Cliff said...

Well, there is that issue of curiosity. But you're right. I'm sure I'll get a chance at some point.

I am definitely a part of the wine business: like you, I gather, as a consumer. I teach French history and am on leave this year. Lyon was for research.

Anonymous said...

Just want to let you know that dark fruit and floral aromas with some spices are trademark vosne romanee. In fact if you look up the attributes indicative of a vosne romanee in the new sotheby's wine encyclopedia, it will say blackberry fruit with fine aromatic qualities reminiscent of violets.