Everyone will recall the warm 2009 vintage which produced ripe white Burgundy on the Côte de Beaune – more expressive of vintage than terroir. This vintage, which slipped south into a sunny, somewhat heady style was not classic Burgundy in youth, but with good structure and concentration, the wine promised the capacity to age.
Now with eight, towards nine years to mature, how have these ‘showy’ wines fared? On 2nd May focus group of experienced Burgundy tasters gathered in Saint James’s in the cellar of Justerini & Brooks to assess twenty-eight wines which had been kindly donated directly from the domaines’ cellars.
Giles Burke-Gaffney, Justerini & Brooks, Burgundy Buyer
Would we be pleasantly surprised by wines which have shed the fat of the vintage to become more refined and expressive of their terroir? Would they have too little acidity and disappoint? Can a warm vintage in Burgundy make white wine which will mature with elegance?
A snapshot of the season
The 2009 was a warm season with a relatively early harvest.
The key to this vintage was picking with sufficient acidity. Véraison raced ahead and the concern was for over ripe grapes. The maturation was too quick in some places for example in Saint Aubin En Remilly and Chatenière. Olivier Lamy recalls, “The wind and sun came at the beginning of September. There were 10 hours of sun a day; good luminosity; plenty of light. This speeded the maturation.” It may have been too quick in some places for some growers. “It was special that we had a high temperature at the end of August and the beginning of September” says Jean-Pierre Latour.
The traditional 100 days after floraison fell around the 9/10th September, but the warm second half of August together with the rain accelerated the ripening. The earliest growers were out harvesting on the 5th (e.g. Domaine Leflaive was the first in Puligny & Marc Morey in Chassagne). The main body of the early wave started on the 7th and 8th.
Tasting in 2010 from barrel there were different styles on show. The earlier pickers had ripe and potentially complex wines, while later pickers had fatter, fruitier wine, some of which had been acidified to correct the balance.
The style was not universally praised by the growers at the time. There was muted praise as many prefer a leaner, tighter style. Or, they know that I do and were simply aligning their impressions with mine! So enthusiasm for the vintage was more more obvious for the quantity than for style.
Now in 2018, here are some general observations. The wines have slimmed down. There were a few examples of dilution, which may well be attributed to over-generous yields. I would expect this to be more wide spread among the less conscientious domaines as yields were high in 2009 and the temptation would have been strong to maximise yields to compensate for the low volume in 2008.
I was concerned the wines would taste fatter and maybe a bit hot. Only a few wines were a bit heavy. The texture was not overly thick and rich… many were more refined in texture than expected. Many domaines drew back on lees and bâtonnage, which was a good thing.
As a passing observation, possibly some 2008s, with the effects of dehydration before harvest, felt more compact.
There was a marked ‘blurring’ on the nose – in general the bouquet was somewhat ripe and not very distinctive, several showing slight oxidation. Only one wine was completely oxidised. Overall the palate was more distinctive than the nose. There were quite a few wines with marked oak on the palate – more than expected.
In general the balance was fair. In some the acidity was softish, but not too low and in most it was well balanced. Just enough acidity to balance. There were a few wines wines where one suspected some acidity had been added, but I did not find it overly marked. (Some tweaked the acidity and a few stopped the MLF from finishing in 2009, but I did not find it out of place. Of the tasters only Tim Atkin found added acidity an issue.
The smaller appellations wines showed rather well. Who could not find pleasure in Caroline Lestime’s Hautes Côtes de Beaune, bottled under screw cap and fresh as a daisy… a good deal fresher than many.
Which village showed best? In 2010 I thought it was Puligny, with Chassagne the most inconsistent. From this sample it was Meursault which brought up the rear. I am not sure the domaines helped themselves by submitting Genevrières. While the Chassagne producers submitted several Morgeot – maybe not an obvious choice as the typical full structure would be emphasised, but the more water retentive soils probably worked in their favour in this hot vintage producing fruit with more acidity. Big, but balanced. I was delighted that there was a wine from Vergers, which showed very well. I wonder how the higher thinner soils such as Ruchottes etc would have shown. Over on the Puligny side, En Remilly a thinner higher terroir, had a good minerality, but was fading a bit.
Meursault was the least consistent. I think Perrières or even Poruzots would have shown better than Genevrières. Genevrières needs freshness and I found it did stumble in 2009. Latour-Giraud compensated with plenty of density and concentration with Cuvée de Pierre, which is a selection of the best bunches. As Patrick Javillier points out, you can make a wine to age which relies on density, notwithstanding low acidity. Patrick’s approach is to use more lees in a lower acid vintage. Tête de Murger embodies this approach – a sturdy which, unlike most, may even benefit from a bit more time. But for my palate I prefer something with more obvious energy.
Perhaps this was the best surprise for me were those wines which displayed more energy than I had anticipated. Clearly expectations of energetic wines in 2009 are low, so where I found some, it was very appealing. While the overall impression of 2009s today is of a vintage that has slimmed down somewhat and is therefore more elegant than it appeared in the months before bottling, it is the wines with energy which really might be said to express elegance.
So my top picks for energetic wine with terroir on show.
Domaine Fichet, Meursault, Le Tesson,
Domaine Bernard Moreau et Fils, Chassagne-Montrachet, 1er Cru La Maltroie
Domaine Blain-Gagnard, Chassagne Montrachet, 1er Cru Cailleret
Domaine Jean-Claude Bachelet et Fils, Puligny-Montrachet, 1er cru Sous Le Puits & Saint-Aubin, Charmois.
Domaine Leflaive, Puligny-Montrachet, 1er Cru Les Combettes
What about terroir? Well yes the wines expressed the principal brushstrokes of terroir – the cold stoniness of Combettes, the smooth roundness of Charmois, the muscular richness of Moregots – and from Jean-Noel Gagnard the difference in Morgeot versus Boudriotte was clear. Were the finer nuances on display? I think it’s fair to say that vintage dominates – and in this respect little has changed in the intervening years.
In 2010 I felt that the ageing capacity was quite good, in the range of 6-8 year for top village and 8-12 years for the best 1er cru. Growers opinions were divided from those who considered it as a more near term vintage and those who thought it had long term ability to age. Jean-Philippe Fichet reckoned on the the near term, while Dominique Lafon, Patrick Javillier etc thought more long term. Patrick Javillier comments, “very long because of two things: The quality of the maturity. I think this is more important than the level of acidity. If you have only acidity without maturity the wine will not keep a long time…. 2009 has the same potential to age as 2008, more than 2007 and 2006.” What is interesting is that Tesson was one of the most appealing and well liked wines of the tasting and village wine to boot, (albeit should be premier cru). This wine would quite happily age longer.
Many wines were ready to drink, some had more ageing potential in terms of developing complexity, while plenty were on a plateau and would not fade quickly, but were quite mature and may not benefit from further ageing.
Was I disappointed in the ageing capacity of 2009? I thought there would be a greater number of wines showing a more youthful face and demanding to be aged longer. I think this is linked to a slight lack of density, of matter, in the wine. The higher yields may have saved the wines from being overly heavy or alcoholic, but possibly left them with less density and definition. However when I read through my notes, it was clear there was capacity for development in quite a number wines.
Considering it was a warm, early vintage with highish yields, these examples have held up well for nearly nine years and were in good shape with very few oxidative notes. But do remember they were from good domaines and the wines have been aged in pristine conditions.
Just to wrap up, I would say that while I enjoyed the tasting of 2009s, I wasn’t bowled over with enthusiasm. I was more excited last year by the drier, edgier 2008s, but my expectations of 2008 had fluctuated as the vintage changed over the years, while the 2009 vintage had a more consistent development and my expectations were higher. My overriding impression was of sunny, pleasant, nicely rounded wines which have slimmed down to reveal good, but not precise, expression of the terroir.
I would drink the 2009s now or in the near term and I would certainly decant them… give the palate some time to open up, regardless of the nose. I kept Fichet’s Tesson and Domaine Leflaive’s Combettes over a couple of days in the fridge and tasted them several times. The Tesson improved 24 hours after the tasting, while the Combettes was still really quite tight. On the third day after tasting the Combettes was slightly oxidised on the nose, but struck optimum point on the palate – delightful, elegant, mineral and flowing.
I think it would be well worth while decanting all the wines for the next Time to Mature white Burgundy tasting.
So what did my fellow tasters think?
The group of tasters include the following and this is a compilation of their thoughts Giles Burke-Gaffney who kindly hosted the tasting at Justerini & Brooks, Jancis Robinson MW (Financial Times 18/05/2018 & JancisRobinson.com), Tim Atkins MW (Decanter.com), Neil Beckett MW (World of Fine Wine), David Roberts MW (Goedhuis), Susie Barrie MW, Charles Lea (Lea & Sandeman) and Sebastian Thomas (Howard Ripley Wines).
The wines were various described as “fruity and ripe,”, “glimmers of terroir”, “less terroir more vintage.” Several remarked that wine from the clays soils notably Morgeot were certainly fatter – a reflection of the soil or the vintage. Some liked this more than others – those who liked it agreed that the deeper soils in Chassagne actually did quite well and raised the profile of Chassagne in the tasting, while Meursault struggled with the exception of Tesson which most tasters seemed to really quite enjoy.
There was a feeling from some that the evolution was in keeping with the age of the vintage, but too many wines lacked complexity. Fruity and easy, but lacking the depth and subtle nuances of a great vintage. While others thought some wines were quite youthful. Giles Burke-Gaffney commented that it was alright to show the vintage, but he might prefer 2008. Jason Haynes considered the wines showed some terroir, but remarked that the Puligny wines, were not very typically Puligny. He cited Pucelles in particular.
There was a general agreement that the wines were better on the palate than the nose – showing more intensity and freshness on the palate.
Giles Burke-Gaffney had the following observations.
“Although it was a mixed bag, not unexpected, I found several 2009s I really enjoyed and that actually felt quite youthful. Hard to praise one village in particular. Cooler, lesser prestigious villages clearly did well. I was disappointed by Meursault, save for a wonderful JP Fichet, but perhaps that reflected the domaines that elected to take part more than the village. There were some hot and stubby wines, alcoholic but under ripe and some felt acidified but the ones I liked felt very complete, yes fuller and more textured than your classic vintages but I definitely saw some vineyard and village character, which was heartening. There were even wines that felt like they had more to give, also heartening (Moreau and Blain Gagnard) The Puligny’s clearly tasted more slender and reserved than the Chassagnes. Folatieres showed its stony character in the case of JL Chavy. My favourites were Fichet Tesson, Moreau Maltroie, Blain Gagnard Caillerets, Sauzet Champs Canet, JC Bachelet Charmois, Leflaive Combettes.”
Tim Atkin MW
Tim remarked that he enjoyed the tasting more than he expected. He felt it was a challenging vintage, but domaines had learn from the experiences of 2003 and 2005 and together with the 2009 this meant the 2015s would have been handled differently. He pointed out that some felt like a wine of two halves, fruit first and acidity afterwards indicating they had been over acidified. He queried the picking date of some and thought that Lamy may have picked early so that lacked flesh. You can find more about the tasting from Tim in Decanter.com
David Roberts MW (Goedhuis).
“I think in general your comments that this was a year more expressive of vintage than terroir holds true, but some of the best terroir in cooler locations really came through. As a slight sweeping generalisation I found the richness and ripeness of fruit controlled many of the wines and as a result of this intensity some wines lacked flavour.
“It was good to see that there were only a minority of wines which were oxidised and beyond their best.”
“I felt the Meursault’s were the weaker of the big 3 appellations, although the Tessons from Fichet showed the quality of the vineyard and was high class. The best Chassagnes were some of the best in the group, although Morgeot clearly suffered in the climatic conditions. The Puligny wines were in general very good but I suspect it was also a reflection of the calibre of the majority of the domaines in the flight.”
Charles Lea (Lea & Sandeman)
“Considering the reputation of the vintage for ripeness and lack of acidity, neither was particularly obvious from the tasting. Did some pick before phenolic ripeness to preserve acidity? Would the wines that show signs having been acidified been better with natural balance?”
“There were also a number of disappointing wines, in the sense that these are all expensive, but not enough had the uncomplicated quality of just being delicious. Some which were very good were good despite displaying very obvious oakiness which came as a bit of a surprise in wines of this age.”
- Caroline Lestimé Hautes Cotes de Beaune
- Fichet Tessons
- Remi Jobard Genevrieres (liked the volume and glassy-pure feel and length, but not quite sure where it’s going from here, there’s a tight element, as discussed dd not like it as much second time around)
- Latour Giraud (oaky, not specially refined, but rich and just good)
- Bernard Moreau Maltroie (very oaky)
- Blain Gagnard Morgeot (and Cailleret, but it’s a bit unsmiling)
- JC Bachelet Sous le Puits (appetising, yummy, proper Puligny)
- Sauzet Champ-Canet (quite a chiseled style, seeming not very concentrated – hard-faceted – finish gave hope of more to come)
“Not sure there was a very obvious winner among the appellations.”
Neil Beckett with his unfailingly positive and constructive approach is a good person to conclude.
Neil recalls that when he tasted the 2009s three or four years after the vintage, the wines were very tight and retarded, which suggested to him then that the domaines given the richness of the vintage had perhaps over-compensated and added too much SO2. There was notable reduction. He saw a few with some reduction in this tasting – a little in Tesson – more of a smoky note (I would agree with him here – there was a smoky note on several wines which could have been the tail end of some reduction). He was positive about this early reduction in so much is that it has allowed the wines time to mature.
Neil found wines that were exciting “showing limpidity and transparency, which at this age is an achievement. Those he remarked for their purity, transparency and fruit were Blain-Gagnard, Chassagne-Montrachet Cailleret; Jean-Noel Gagnard, Chassagne-Montrachet, Boudriotte and Jean-Claude Bachelet, Puligny-Montrachet, Sous Le Puits.
On the flip side he found some with too much concentration, lacking terror and transparency. He found Domaine Leflaive’s Pucelles very concentrated and with good length, but rather too evolved not so well defined. While Combettes had effortless transparency.
His second bracket of wines included Jean-Philippe Fichet’s Tesson, Remi Jobard’s Genevrières and he found the Savigny-Les-Beaune and Lamy’s En Remilly good.
Neil enjoyed the 2009s, “for wines of this age to have transparency, to be graceful and flowing is great. Many were better on the palate than on the nose even when they lacked this transparency.”
George Wilmoth took the black & white header photo