My first report from en primeur week is on 2011 white Burgundy and Chablis. As ever we can cut straight to the chase and I’ll tell you it’s a very good to excellent vintage. Perhaps not of the supreme quality of 2010, but that doesn’t take away from the class, undoubted fun-value and extreme drinkability of 2011 white Burgundy.
2011 white Burgundy has a very distinct vintage character; the wines are quite round and fruity whilst having a lively acidity and good mineral character. The numbers on acidity may be lower than 2010, but the wines seem extremely fresh. Extremely fresh and up for drinking! Certainly there are wines here that will age very well but almost everything will be accessible from the moment your pry yours from your wine-merchant’s fingers. And there’s a lot you want to pry from their fingers as you’ll have a great time drinking them.
The region where this style of slightly buxom but fresh fruitiness really worked was Chablis – 2011 was a great success here. The wines all have good purity and finesse, whilst have a roundness which will make them have a very approachable ageing profile. Basic wines will be an absolute hoot on release whilst higher-end kit will also dazzle young whilst having the stuffing to age. Chablis has had a great run of vintages recently and it continues in 2011 – there are some great wines out there.
Cote de Beaune 2011 white Burgundy was also generally successful, with only some of the really low end wines lacking the harmony to make them worth buying. The bottom end also sometimes showed a few problems with under-ripeness and astringency. Some village level wines also suffered from these issues but there were plenty that were good. The top end had no difficulties in showing why white Burgundy is so desirable. A few things we tried were at the sensitive end of gratifying.
Those weirdies that are Cote de Nuits whites were weird as ever, with only one of the very few we tried standing out as good.
I’ll take you through the producers we tried in regional order. Prices are given per six bottles in bond (unless otherwise stated) with the supplier HR being Howard Ripley and HHC being Haynes, Hanson and Clark .
Domaine Daniel Dampt
Dampt’s wines were the best I’ve ever tried from them, having both nervy energy and a fruity roundness – indeed some of the plumpest Dampt wines I’ve tried. The basic 2011 Chablis (£138.50 for 12 duty paid, HHC) was delightfully drinkable with a good depth of concentration if not scintillating complexity. Since this is available for delivery now you could do far worse than get a case ready to drink for the spring; it’ll be lovely then.
The Premier Cru Les Lys (£118 for 12, HHC) was noticeably more complex with good mineral definition and lovely fruit. It was quite vibrant. My favourite of the three Premier Crus was the Cote de Lechet (£125 for 12, HHC). This showed a real depth of concentration in terms of fruit and minerality whilst remaining vibrant and charged with finesse. The flinty, smoky flavours it had were highly attractive. Their most expensive wine was the Premier Cru Fourchaume (£132 for 12, HHC) which had an impressive depth of character and really lovely roundness. It was certainly extremely good and if you like them a bit bigger this is the one to get rather than the one I’d get.
A top selection of wines that are very worthy of purchase across the range.
Domaine Jean-Paul et Benoit Droin
I have to admit I’ve gone off Droin a shade, I find the wines a bit plump for my tastes and I’ve had some unfortunate experiences ageing them. You will have to understand that my views on these wines will be tainted by these thoughts. However, I recognise that their more opulent, lower acidity style is one some people enjoy and, if you are one of those people, then this is the vintage to buy.
The basic Chablis (£54, HR) was fat and round, which lowish acidity but a reasonable degree of mineral characters. Reasonably charming. Similarly charming but a notch up in complexity was the Premier Cru Vaillons (£72, HR); if you like your Chablis rotund then you’ll blooming well love this. Finally there was the Grand Cru Grenouille which was not lacking scale but had a good flinty minerality and almost enough acidity to make me think I rather liked it. Almost. I do worry how these will age, but for lovers of young, ripe Chablis you’ll be chuffed as ninepence to own these for the brief period before you should neck them.
Domaine William Fevre
Fevre are better than ever. The wines all had a brilliant purity, less capacious in terms of structure compared to previous vintages and more obviously intricate and focussed. People who have petulantly whined about new oak in Fevre wines can drink these safely without irritating other people with your needless gripes. This was the best all-round producer of 2011 Chablis we tried.
Two Premier Crus were available to taste, first up was the Vaillons (£114, HR). This was impressively taut with a good under-pinning of fruit and lovely creamy minerality. It was extremely lively and vibrant and should have a very accessible drinking profile, being enjoyable any time from immediately to about ten years old. Premier Cru Vaulorent (£174, HR) remains my favourite Chablis I have ever tasted and the 2011 maintains the extreme standards I’ve come to expect from this wine. It had a great interplay between lively severity and powerful richness. The acidity was searing, the fruit gorgeous and its overall personality extremely engaging. Cracking crab kit!
We also tried two Grand Crus, starting off with the Vaudesir (£246, HR). This had the scale and density one hopes for in a Chablis Grand Cru whilst losing nothing in terms of focus and precision. It was richly complex with fruit and flinty mineral flavours. Inordinately more impressive was the Grand Cru Les Clos (£300, HR). Such density, such class and such finesse are rarely encountered in a Chablis Grand Cru. The purity of expression was simply amazing. This was one of the best Chablis I’ve tasted – I still prefer the Vaulorent, though!
Domaine Christian Moreau
What a lovely chap Christian Moreau is! And he seems most taken with the direction the wines have gone now his son does more of the wine making. Now the wines are only 25% aged in oak, 5% new oak, and they show a lighter elegance than they used to. Some excellent wines here.
At the bottom of the heap was the basic Chablis (£96 for 12, HHC), a lively, fruity interpretation of the genre that had a reasonable amount of body to it. It had a degree of complexity that was quite nice, would you keep you interested whilst you serve this to your less enlightened guests. Richer and more powerful was the Premier Cru Vaillon Cuvee Guy Moreau (£152 for 12, HHC). Voluminous as this was the acidity was spot on and it had a good complex set of flavours persisting on the finish. This was good.
There were two cask samples of Grand Cru Chablis to try. The Valmur (£250 for 12, HHC) seemed to be showing a little awkwardly, with a hint of oak wafting around. It was difficult to taste and one should draw conclusions from this sample. The Grand Cru Les Clos (£260 for 12, HHC) was quite brilliant. Deliciously elegant fruit coupled with great acidity and thrilling minerality. Very precise in character whilst having the complexity one wants from this vineyard. An extremely fine wine.
Cote de Nuits
The bottom end Cote-de-Nuits-Villages-Blanc ‘Au Leurey’ (£87, HR) was. Astringent, thin, acrid, no thanks! On the other hand, their Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru Clos de l’Arlot (£213, HR) was rather scrummy. It had some of the meaty, butch characters that red Nuits has, but mainly dense apple, nut and mineral flavours. It was pretty weighty with good acidity and the flavours certainly persisted. A very enjoyable oddity.
Some Bourgogne Blanc is quite nice, but not Fourrier’s (£51, HR). If it wasn’t acrid it would be extremely anodyne.
Cote de Beaune
Their Bourgogne Blanc (£60, HR) was as astringent as their red wines but with nowhere near as much fruit. Stick to the red wines.
Pierre Meurgey, the director of Champy, is another charmer and even though his two whites on show came from a oft prickly village, Pernand-Vergelesses, they were too. The Pernand Les Combottes (£166 for 12, HHC) had a good interplay between fresh, lively fruit and star-bright acidity. It had reasonable length and reasonably sophisticated flavours for a village Pernand.
Sophistication was certainly present in the Pernand Premier Cru Les Caradeaux (£204.50, HHC) which had the gratifying feature of being remarkably well-titted out for a wine from this village. Compared to the usual offerings from Pernand this was happily rotund without missing any of the fine acidity and exciting minerality one can get. It lasted too, and if you can keep your hands off it it’ll last in your cellar for a while as well. Top work, M. Meurgey!
Domaine Alain Chavy
I didn’t really see the point of Chavy’s village Puligny (£108, HR), but then I don’t buy ordinary wines for general drinking. It was a good ordinary wine for general drinking, so if you like that category of wine then this would be a safe buy. But not for me.
Conversely, I thought his Premier Cru Folatieres (£156, HR) was a distinctly attractive, complex wine well worth seeking out and this was even more true of his Premier Cru Pucelles (£174, HR). What excellent wines those two were!
Domaine Francoise et Denis Clair
Sadly their Bourgogne Hautes Cotes de Beaune Blanc (£98.50 for 12, HHC) didn’t have the fruit or much in the way of weight to match the slightly green acid. Much better was the chubby Saint-Aubin Premier Cru Les Frionnes (£166 for 12, HHC); full of fruit and pleading for you to drink it. More elegant and harmonious was the Saint-Aubin Premier Cru Sur Gamay (£190 for 12, HHC) – it could easily be a quality Puligny. The fruit and acid in great balance here.
Domaine Franck Grux
Franck Grux is a cool dude and his Bourgogne Blanc Les Grandes Coutures (£110 for 12, HHC) was as stylish, for a generic, as the man merits. Packed with fruit and bursting with energy it was a real lovely number to take a sneaky swallow of to keep yourself sharp. It’ll need drinking young, but when drinking young is this much fun no harm will be done. His Meursault Meix Chavaux (£265 for 12) was a far classier number but still packed with attractive fruit, of much more sophisticated quality than the Bourgogne. It had a great acid/fruit balance which was slightly tipped toward the ‘good times will be had’ side.
Olivier Leflaive Domaine
These are wines made by Franck Grux from vines owned by Olivier Leflaive that they had returned from Domaine Leflaive two years ago. As you would imagine, with Domaine Leflaive in charge of the vineyards they were already top nick, and M. Grux knows how to make a spiffy wine – we were in for a good time. These wines were all cask samples and yet to be assembled and bottled so they were not entirely representative of the finished articles.
Last year I loved the Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru Clos Saint-Marc (£160, HHC) and my affair with it continues. Good Chassagne ‘flat Champagne’-character, real persistence of complex flavours and not too pricy. This is where the smart money goes from this Domaine.
The village may be more desirable than Chassange but I didn’t think there was much quality-difference between the previous wine and the Meursault Premier Cru Blagny ‘Sous Le Dos d’Ane’ (£185, HHC). It was slightly nuttier and richer, but not really any finer. That being said, as fine as the Chassagne is pretty blinking-well fine.
There are two Puligny Premier Crus, the lovely, charming Folatieres (£280, HHC) and the intense, intellectual Pucelles (£315, HHC). The latter was certainly made of finer, more intricate, sophisticated stuff, but they were both of very high quality and worth the money. They’ll age very well, the Pucelles particularly.
If you are the kind of flash person who buys Cote de Beaune Grand Crus a choice buy would be the Batard-Montrachet (£695, HHC). What can I say? It had the class and sophistication of a serious vineyard with the joyous harmony between fruit and acidity that the vintage displays. Really excellent. Only get the Chevalier-Montrachet (£880, HHC) if you like tossing money about as it wasn’t really much better than the Batard, it’s just the smaller production and more desirable vineyard name push the price up. Batard, definitely.
Maison Benjamin Leroux
The master of Clos des Epeneaux has his own vines and, you know, there’s some similarity. His Meursault Premier Cru Vireuils (£165, HR) had a slightly austere toughness to it and its fruit wasn’t immediately attractive but something you had to imagine would develop in time. It was very good, but one that definitely needs keeping unlike than most 2011 white Burgundy.
Domaine Paul Pernot
I hope it was simply their stage of development, though I suspect not, but I found Pernot’s village Puligny (£120, HR) and Premier Cru Folatieres to be rather bitter and acrid. They were quite heavily sulphured so it could be just a stage they are in, or it could be ladybirds. I will have to come back and re-taste when they are on the open market.
Domaine Roulot, my star of Meursault, was incandescent with coruscating intensity in 2011; all three wines we tried were of the very highest quality for their classification. As far as Bourgogne Blanc goes they don’t get much better than Jean-Marc Roulot’s (£152.50 for 12, HHC or £168 for 12, HR). It sang with wonderful focussed fruit and acidity, even showing a suggestion of mineral complexity. But whilst it wasn’t an amazingly complex wine it had a good depth of character and you had to admire its vibrancy.
Meursault Les Tillets (£115 for 3, HHC) is a stunning wine almost every year, 2011 seemed a gloriously successful vintage for it. There was depth, density, weight and concentration all tied up into a beautifully refined and precise, wonderfully winsome whole. The intricacies of its mineral and fruit flavours were galvanic and they persisted for an age. It did have a bit of sulphur showing but that’s not a problem at all. This may only be effectively a village-level wine but it could out-perform all but the very finest Premier Crus.
One of the most insanely fine Premier Crus was Roulot’s Meursault Clos des Boucheres (£225 for 3, HHC). I’ve drank an awfully, frightfully large amount of wine and I’ve only rarely had white Burgundies as good as this was. It was such a profound experience tasting it that I find it hard to encapsulate, but shall I give it a punt? OK. This manifested every form of pleasure it is possible for a wine to express. You could be ceaselessly intellectually engaged by the complex layer upon layer of flavour. You could wallow in the visceral pleasure of the fruit. You could be lubriciously stung by the tension between sharp acidity and vigorous minerality. And you could go on tasting it all day to discover yet more sensations. It was irrefutably the cat’s arse.