Barrel tasting 2009 Burgundies. Tough Life.

February 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

The main point here is: Plan for your future (and that of your children), by planning to buy some 2009 Burgundy in September when they become available. Charmingly accessible for-American-palates whites (Chardonnay), with ripe but precious and ageable reds (Pinot Noir). The whites especially are drinkable now, while the reds will be fun (and sufficiently loose) young but soulful as years go on.

From Portland Press Herald, 2 February 2011

I had the privilege of tasting 2009 Burgundies “from barrel” last week. The wines will not be available anywhere until autumn, but when that time comes you’d be a fool not to buy some.

The wines are expensive, by the usual criteria of this column and most people who read it. But there’s a time for expensive wines. Yes, wine is meant to be enjoyed heartily, without fetishizing; yes, wine should be an everyday meal companion; yes, there are currently many terrific $10-15 wines; yes, there’s danger in over-thinking it. However: Wine can also be a unique connection with land, with exquisite beauty, and with pleasures so delicate that if we experienced them too frequently we’d dissolve. These are those kind of wines, and $30 to $100 a bottle is a more-than-fair price for such encounters. (How much did you spend on dinner and a movie last time you went out, and how exalted was the experience?)

If you’d like some background on Burgundy, use Wikipedia or a good book. My only task here is to convince you there’s a good chance you will love these ethereal, infinitely complex wines, and get you to start and/or continue a relationship with them.

The barrel tasting was with Maison Louis Jadot, one of the great names in Burgundy. The wines are still aging in barrel (hence the Fall 2011 release), but for promotional purposes Jadot (and others) get small amounts of several of their wines into bottles for professionals to taste. The intention is to provide a “picture of the vintage”, rather than drill down on the nuances of any one wine.

Vintage is extremely important in Burgundy because, as Jadot’s export director, Marc Dupin, told me, “We don’t have a stable climate.” 2003 was the hottest summer in 500 years; 2004 was the coldest in 600. In 2009, lucky for us, “everything worked”. The summer wasn’t so warm it killed off the necessary acidity, and September brought some rain which can effectively restart the maturation process, raising alcohol to the appropriate level and ripening the skins sufficiently.

Jadot is both a winemaker and négociant-éleveur. They make wines from their own grapes, but also buy grapes from selected growers and then age and bottle these. Dupin told me they’re as proud of their négociant wines as they are of their proprietary wines. Indeed, he said, the ability to pick and choose grapes can sometimes render“négoc” wines more complex than single-property wines; the disadvantage is a loss of some gôut de terroir, that singularity of taste that a wine made only from these grapes in this spot can elicit.

The 2009 whites are fascinating. Dupin said the Burgundians won’t love them, because they’re a bit too viscous and generous, with not enough acidity. But that’s perfect for many American tastes, especially those Americans who are ready (I say that as condescendingly as possible) to move from New World Chardonnay to Old. Austere 2008 belongs to the French, but gregarious 2009 is for us! Austere 2008 will age decades, while 2009 will be prime by 2015.

For example, the Pernand Vergelesses (roughly $35), a great “Villages”-level value grown on a slope facing the famed Corton Charlemagne, presented distinct toast aromas, but toast without butter. That is, it wasn’t too oaky, even as its lemon spongecake character gave plenty to smile about. Those weaned on oaky, buttery Chardonnay will find so much to like, even as those seeking purity of fruit and minerality don’t have to feel dumbed down. The Jadot Puligny Montrachet Clos de la Garenne (roughly $67) is totally different: explosive, racy, and oily, it’s Chardonnay stripped down to essences. Both are singular, and transporting. Also look for: Santenay Clos de Malte Blanc, and Meursault-Genevrières.

The reds were just oh-so pretty, like the great 2005 but a bit riper, with plenty of backbone hinting at decades’ worth of ageability. Still, several will be wonderful from this September onward: Beaune-Boucherottes (roughly $40) was fungal, packed with white pepper and herbs, 1,000 edges and corners like an M.C. Escher drawing that makes sense despite itself.

We also tasted the Chateau des Jacques Moulin-à-Vent, technically a Beaujolais but that was the point: It’s vinified like a Burgundy (handpicked, handsorted grapes, destemmed, with long maceration), and it’s massive. When I asked Dupin how long this one could last, he said “forever” — only a slight exaggeration. It was bottled last fall, when I wrote this about it: “brooding wisdom-soul…an untracked forest…earthy, gamey, brambly roses.” Still true.

The best a critic of anything can do is persistently point at the moon, saying, “Look! See what’s there! Take this in!” My scribbled notes from the Jadot tasting include phrases like “roasted”, “prettiest thing ever”, “spice-rubbed”, “oh strawberries”, “what is that flower?”, “flesh”, “so calm”. Those are the words; the wines are beyond them. All I really want to say is, Please: staple this column to your calendar, and buy 2009 Jadot Burgundy in September.

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