Just a few weeks ago, we held our fabulous white Burgundy tasting, which was hosted by wine writer Robert Joseph. Following on the success of that event, Robert returned to AWC Wine Academy last week with a selection of fine red Burgundies to tantalise our taste buds.
As experienced aficionados know, Burgundy can be one of the most complex and often frustrating wine regions in the world. When it hits the heights there’s nothing to match it. However, you do have to kiss a few frogs before you find your princes (or princesses as the case may be).
Above: As with all of our tasting events we enjoyed some lovely canapes and champagne beforehand.
Robert was quick to point out that, should any question or comment come to mind during the tasting, attendees should feel free to shout it out – particularly if they found any of the wines lacking for any reason. With an invitation to openly heckle, who knew what the evening would bring? Fortunately, the enthusiastic and knowledgeable group of Antique Wine Company clients were able to enjoy an impressive, 100% success rate, thanks to Robert’s sublime and varied selections.
Above: Robert Joseph (l) and AWC Wine Academy Director John Stimpfig discuss the wines.
The evening started off with 2007 Corton Clos du Roi by Domaine de Montille. Today this biodynamic property is run by Etienne de Montille who took over operations from his famous father Hubert in the late 1990s. What has now emerged is a more open and silky style of red Burgundy than in previous generations. However, the wines have retained both their purity and their ability to age. This is a difficult task to pull off, but Etienne has managed it with aplomb and skill. The professionalism in production certainly shined through in this utterly delightful Grand Cru Corton.
A perfume of violets, wild raspberries and cherry compote rises from the glass. In the mouth, it displays exquisite balance, freshness and length. Above all, the wine had a brilliantly delicate touch, yet was significantly persistent on the palate – nearly always a hallmark of a great wine. This is what great Burgundy should be all about – the proverbial ‘iron fist in the velvet glove.’ Running £127 per bottle, I rated it an easy 96 points. What a superb start to the evening!
I was particularly pleased at how well this wine showed, as I had just bought the prestigious ‘Piece de la President’ lot at the Hospices de Beaune auction the weekend prior. Purchased for $150,000, the Piece was a 460L barrel of Corton Clos du Roi, Cuvée Baronne de Baÿ – a quite similar wine to the Montille.
As many of you will know, proceeds from the Hospices auction go to a number of extremely worthy charities. With the purchase of every lot, funds are raised to support extraordinary medical work. Some lots help save the lives of underprivileged children requiring emergency heart surgery, whilst others support important research into Alzheimer’s disease. As that is the case, I was extremely happy to pay the added premium for this particular lot. Moreover, if the 2011 Hospices Clos du Roi provides even half the pleasure of this Domaine de Montille I will be more than enthused.
Next up was another Burgundian legend – Domaine Armand Rousseau. Eric Rousseau, who now heads the domaine, produces nothing but Pinot Noir and is a master of the variety. Rousseau is unquestionably one of the Cote d’Or’s greatest and most sought-after growers. This evening’s wine was the 2006 Ruchottes-Chambertin, Clos des Ruchottes Grand Cru. While 2006 wasn’t the most homogenous year for red Burgundy, this was an absolute gem of a wine.
Another stunning aroma - both classical and bright. On the palate it had great attack and freshness. With an almost ethereal lightness, it still carried a touch more depth and weight than the Clos du Roi. The tannins were riper and the structure firmer, with darker fruits and a lovely mineral lift on the finish. Although this is drinking beautifully now, it will improve with age. Worth every penny of the £210 price tag. A sublime 97 points.
The third wine was from one of my favourite properties, Domaine Clos des Lambrays in Morey-Saint-Denis. Since Günther Freund bought the domaine about fifteen years ago, winemaker Thierry Brouin has managed to significantly elevate the quality of the wines. Given the warmth of the 2005 vintage though, we wondered what effect it would have on the style of this particular Clos des Lambray Grand Cru. Certainly this was bigger and broader than either of the previous wines, yet it was in no way over done or over-extracted. Once again, the truffle-like, red berry fruit flavours were beautifully delineated. What a pleasure to drink! Having said that, I would still keep this for a few more years, as I think it will benefit from a bit more time in the cellar. 94 Points.
The next Grand Cru also came from quite a warm vintage and this was reflected in its colour, structure and rounder tannins. While the 2003 Échezeaux from Domaine Robert Arnoux in Vosne-Romanée was nearly a decade old, it was just beginning to move beyond its primary fruit characters and hint at the glorious tertiary flavours to come. I found a lovely complexity in this wine - sweet, red and black fruits (both cherry and cassis) and a few more ‘animal’ or gamey notes. At just £104 a bottle this rated a very creditable and impressive 94 points.
For many, the following wine - Lalou Bize-Leroy’s 2000 Les Boudots, 1er Cru from Nuits-Saint-Georges - was the top wine of the evening. Although 2000 was a legendary vintage in Bordeaux, it wasn’t the greatest in Burgundy. Nevertheless, Lalou made a spectacular wine. The result was a wonderfully complex and pleasurable red with layers of candied violet and black cherry fruit, overlaid with spice, smoke and minerals. This had immense structure and staying power; the tannins are beautifully ripe and the wine is just moving into a more evolved phase. With plenty of sap and dry extract, the length is magnificent, making this is a wine to either enjoy now or to keep with great confidence.
As Robert pointed out, the feisty and talented Lalou is just as well-known as her own wines. She certainly has quite a back story. Having begun her career in 1955, she co-ran DRC with Aubert de Villaine for many years before being controversially fired during a vote by DRC’s board in 1992 – with the deciding vote cast by her own sister! Oh, the family intrigue of Burgundy! However, by that point Lalou had already begun to create her own estate. Domaine Leroy now boasts 22 hectares, from no less than 26 appellations, which contain a total of nine Grand Crus. Today, these biodynamic beauties are made from extraordinarily low yields and are priced at the same level as those of DRC itself. This wine is available for £288 and I rated it 98 points.
How do you follow a wine like that? The answer is with one of Burgundy’s most ‘cult-ish’ wines – none other than Domaine Georges Roumier’s Clos de la Bussière 1er Cru from Morey-Saint-Denis.
The core of this domaine is 12 hectares of Chambolle-Musigny vines which were brought as a dowry by a local girl to Georges Roumier in 1924 and famously included Les Amoureuses and some Bonnes Mares. The domaine was added to with parcels of Clos de Vougeot and the whole of Clos de la Bussiere in 1953. That same year, Georges retired, leaving his son Jean-Marie in charge.
Ultimately, the domaine really rocketed into the Cote d’Or’s Hall of Fame after Jean-Marie’s son Christophe took over technical matters in 1982. In my mind, there is no question that Christophe deserves the title of winemaking genius for the balance and finesse which emerge from his terroir-driven wines.
Sixteen years on there are still masses of sweet, rich, black and red primary fruits in this wine, with just the start of spice, earth and truffle. The texture is stunning, thanks to the silky, velvet-like tannins. As ever, Christophe Roumier has managed exquisite sweetness, finesse and remarkable length. An extraordinary 1er Cru effort from Domaine Roumier which is a steal at £96. 97 Points.
At this point, one of The Antique Wine Company’s clients from Switzerland enquired about whether it was or was not appropriate to decant Burgundy. This started a lively debate on the pros and cons of decanting among the attendees. After much discussion and deliberation - and following several rounds of voting - it was decided that red Burgundy should really only be decanted when it is within the first decade of its life. Of course, there are no hard and fast rules here and personal discretion will always play a role. Robert commented that he actually decants most white Burgundy but hardly ever decants any red Burgundy, irrespective of age.
The seventh wine was certainly one my top two wines of the night and proved just how well great Burgundies can go the distance. The nearly 30 year old, 1983 Clos de Vougeot from Domaine René Engel was absolutely wonderful. Today, this 7.5 hectare domaine - with plots in Échezeaux, Grands-Échezeaux and Clos de Vougeot - is owned by Château Latour’s tycoon proprietor Francois Pinault, who bought it in 2006. Since that time, Pinault has installed his trusty lieutenant from Latour, Frédéric Engerer, to be in charge of winemaking.
However, in the 1980s - when this particular wine was produced - the estate was run by Philippe Engel. Philippe’s tenure lasted many years and he is often credited with having pushed the domaine into the upper echelon of Vosne-Romanée producers. According to Robert, Engel’s Clos de Vougeot is probably the domaine’s finest wine due to a combination of very old vines and the fact that they are situated at the top of the Clos, adjacent to the château itself.
1983 was another warm vintage in Burgundy and this wine still had some sweet, primary fruit characteristics to it. It had also developed quite a few of the tertiary, gamey, sous-bois notes which are so beloved by Burgundy enthusiasts. Backed by elements of soy and mushroom, this beautiful wine is now fully mature and the gentle tannins make it a real pleasure to drink. Not only was this the most valuable wine of the night at £300 a bottle, it was also the finest and the most popular (as voted by the attendees). I gave it 98 points.
Perhaps because the Clos de Vougeot was such a stunning wine, it did slightly overshadow the 1978 Volnay Champans 1er Cru which followed it. From Domaine Camille Giroud, compared to the 1983 Engel, this was even further evolved. Fully mature, it was quite firmly in the ‘old wine’ category which meant that it wasn’t to everyone’s taste. Yet it was still very much alive and kicking – though not quite as energetically as the Clos de Vougeot. Available for £186, I rated it 91 points.
At the end of this remarkable evening we took a vote on which were the top wines of the night. Here are the results: [Please note that all of these wines are available on request from The Antique Wine Company]
Tied for 1st Place -
1983 Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru - Domaine René Engel - £3,600/case of 12
2000 Nuits-Saint-Georges Aux Boudots, 1er Cru, Domaine Leroy - £3,456/case of 12
2nd Place -
2007 Corton Clos du Roi, Grand Cru, Domaine de Montille - £1,524/case of 12
3rd Place -
2003 Échézeaux Grand Cru, Domaine Robert Arnoux - £1,248/case of 12
Tied for 4th Place -
2006 Ruchottes-Chambertin Grand Cru, Clos des Ruchottes, Domaine Armand Rousseau - £2,520/case of 12
1995 Morey-Saint-Denis Clos de la Bussière 1er Cru, Domaine Georges Roumier - £1,152/case of 12
We look forward to welcoming you into the Wine Academy in the coming months, whether for another 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.