Last week, AWC Wine Academy hosted another delightful, fine wine tasting.
Expertly led by the inimitable and prolific Burgundy author, Mr. Robert Joseph, the tasting attracted some very serious white Burgundy lovers.
Burgundy is the wine region which remains closest to Robert’s heart and his knowledge of the wines, growers, vintages and terrroirs that featured in the tasting were nothing short of encyclopaedic.
No doubt this passion was helped by the fact that Robert lived in Burgundy for several years and knows many of the winemakers and estate owners personally. Throughout the evening, he was able to communicate his understanding and expertise in a way that truly brought the region and its wines to life.
Above: Fine wine tastings at AWC Wine Academy always start with a glass or two of Vintage Champagne. Wine Academy Assistant Alex Scheybeler (l) and Account Manager Lucy McMillan (r) prepare for the arrival of the evening's guests.
This passion also helped fuel some lively debate and precipitated plenty of pertinent, intelligent and quite wine savvy questions. However, no matter how detailed the question, Robert was able to answer with both wit and wisdom. No wonder he’s won so many awards or that Decanter Magazine once described him as ‘one the wine world’s 50 most influential wine people.’
Above: Perfectly chilled bottles, ready to be poured.
We tasted the wines in pairs and the first wine of the evening was the 2009 Chassasgne-Montrachet, Morgeot 1er Cru from Domaine JN Gagnard. Since 1989, the wines at this tiny domaine in Chassagne have been made by the highly talented Caroline Lestimé. It was an impressive start to the evening. As ever, the Morgeot was classy and elegant, yet maintained its depth and concentration – a true to vintage 2009 which will continue to age and improve. 91 Points.
Next was Jean-Marc Boillot’s 2008 Puligny-Montrachet. Whilst terroir certainly plays a part, Boillot is a master at producing complex wines even in the most demanding vintages. 2008 was an altogether different vintage from 2009 and this was reflected in the glass. This wine was more citrusy and tight than the 2009, with plenty of minerality and tons of crisp, fresh acidity. This particular Puligny comes from no fewer than nine parcels, all on the Chassagne side of the commune. It also includes some of the best lieux-dits, such as Rue Rousseau and Les Enseigneres. Out of the pair, most people in the room preferred the more accessible 2009, but Boillot’s 2008 also showed undeniably well. 90 Points.
The next pair of wines, from the same vintages as the first pair, was a clear step-up in quality. First was the 2009 Puligny-Montrachet, Les Champs-Gain 1er Cru from Camille Giroud. You may recall that that Camille Giroud was purchased by the famous American vintner Ann Colgin, of Napa’s Colgin Cellars, back in 2002. Though it is better known for its reds, this was silky, rich, creamy and sensuous – almost New World in style - with lots of ripe white peach and Bosc pear flavours. A real vin de plaisir. 93 Points.
Following the Camille Giroud came a more cerebral 2008 Chevalier-Montrachet, Grand Cru from one of Burgundy’s greatest negociants - Bouchard Père et Fils. Here, the Grand Cru terroir clearly showed through - complex notes of apples, greengage fruit, yellow plum, melon and nuts. This was also quite creamy, with a lot of butter, yet a nice savoury edge that was followed by very long finish. ‘Orchestral’ was Robert’s verdict. 94 Points.
While the Bouchard had been my favourite wine thus far, it was outgunned and outclassed by the sublime wine which followed it. This was Domaine Drouhin’s extraordinary 2005 Marquis de Laguiche Le Montrachet. It was simply breathtaking - complexity, power, eloquence and precision all rolled into one magical wine. Robert described it as being the quintessential ‘iron fist in a velvet glove.’ Without question, this wine is still in its infancy and will age (and improve) for decades. This had everything anyone could ever possibly ask for in a great Montrachet.
Above: Burgundy expert Robert Joseph leads the tasting.
What a pleasure and a privilege to drink such a wine! My tasting notes do not even come close to doing this wine justice - dry, fresh, rich and ripe with astonishing depth, weight and extract. On the palate, I picked up a bewildering range of flavours, including hazelnuts, minerals, white flowers, quince, pear and a savouriness reminiscent of rolled oats. The balance, complexity and length were almost beyond compare. To many this was, without a doubt, the wine of the night. 99 Points.
You would be forgiven for thinking that this would be a nearly impossible act to follow. However, the 2001 Chevalier-Montrachet from Château de Puligny did quite an admirable job – it actually performed extremely well. In part, this was due to the smokier, leaner style of the 2001 vintage and the fact that this wine was developing some superlative secondary aromas and flavours which added to its complexity. 93 Points.
The Château de Puligny’s sparring partner, the 1998 Le Montrachet from Etienne Sauzet also proved to be up to the task. It was beautifully mature and, perhaps not surprisingly, showed a gentle oxidative character which added a honeyed richness. Almond, hazelnut, mandarin orange, minerals and toast - another stunning wine from an excellent producer. 95 Points.
Among serious collectors of white Burgundy, it is inevitable that, at some point, a question about premature oxidation would be asked. The issue of ‘pre-ox’ showed up sometime around 1995 and haunted a number of wines and estates for several years. The question is why?
Robert took the question head on and suggested that it probably comes down to a number of factors. These included some suspect corks, varying levels of sulphur, riper wine styles and greater use of batonnage (stirring of the lees/sediment in barrel) during the process of élevage. Another theory is that the use of gentler presses may have excluded some of the natural phenolics which help keep oxidation at bay and protect the wines. In truth, it is unlikely we will ever know the conclusive answer. Fortunately, the issue is much less prevalent than it once was.
Above: Carefully considering the wines.
Eventually, we reached the last pair of wines. Both wines proved, without a shadow of a doubt, just how magnificently great white Burgundies can age if they are stored properly and given the chance. The first of the two was none other than the 1991 Le Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche from Drouhin – our second vintage of this wine during the evening. Naturally, the wine was showing its age, but it was doing so impeccably. By now, the colour on this wine had transitioned to a deep golden hue, yet it still had that wonderful acidity and honeyed richness which was also present in the younger vintage. These sublime flavours were married to savoury notes of spice, nuts and toast to create something utterly phenomenal.
‘This is what great white Burgundy is all about’, exclaimed Robert. I had to agree, as I found myself captivated by the wine’s sheer complexity, power and elegance. The finish was equally extraordinary. It was also fascinating to taste the 2005 and the 1991 side-by-side because you could see almost exactly where the younger wine is ultimately heading. 96 Points.
Last but not least, we alighted on the oldest Grand Cru of the night - the 1989 Bâtard-Montrachet from Bouchard Père et Fils. It was a fitting finale to this glorious evening. The wine was fully mature, with a complex, elevated nose, followed by a melee of flavours ranging from caramel and honey to nuts and spice box. Clive Coates once described this wine as ‘virile, powerful and [with] bags of life.’ I know exactly what he means. Even at 22 years of age, it is still going strong. 94 Points.
This was an incredibly impressive tasting. It was also a perfect example of how to conduct a Fine Wine Masterclass – with modesty, wit and humour. For instance, Robert candidly admitted, from the start, that it is simply impossible to know everything there is to know about Burgundy. ‘It’s just too complicated, which, of course, is part of its appeal. It’s one of many reasons why people keep coming back for more!’
Another reason is definitely the wines. As that is the case, I’m sure you’ll be interested to know that Robert is back at AWC Wine Academy on November 22nd to showcase eight, fantastic red Burgundies from some of the Cote d’Or’s top domaines. The evening is entitled – The Holy Grail of Red Burgundy. It should be quite the night and we very much hope you can join us.
We look forward to welcoming you into the building in the coming months, whether for the upcoming Red Burgundy tasting, for your own private tasting or for one of the other exciting events we have planned.
To join us for a tasting or to reserve the Wine Academy for yourself, please visit - http://www.awcwineacademy.com - or contact Deborah Ives on +44 (0) 20 3219 5560.
To purchase any of the wines which were covered in this particular tasting, please contact one of our staff wine experts.