If you missed the inaugural entry about my dozen-bottle, Bourgogne-Blanc-to-Grand Cru, no-holds-barred white Burgundy tasting, check out my write up of four 2009 Bourgogne Blancs of varying levels of quality and corked-ness here. Tonight we’re jumping right into Flight #2.
From the basic Bourgognes, we move up one quality level and correspondingly narrow our regional focus with three village-level wines, so called because the village closest to the vineyards where each wine’s grapes were grown is the prominent identifying feature of the classification. Even though Burgundy is a relatively small wine region (the Cote d’Or, the key quality area in the heart of the region, is only around 40 km long and in most spots less than 2 km wide), each of the main wine villages rests on slightly different soils and lies on slightly different aspects, which result in wines with clearly identifiable local identities. I’ve read about the flavour differences among the various villages, but this was my first chance to experience them myself. The plan was to open a bottle each from the three most well-known white wine villages in Burgundy: Meursault, Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet. However, after checking in with at least half a dozen prominent Calgary wine stores and being unable to locate a village-level Chassagne anywhere, I had to sub it out for Plan B: a village wine from the nearby town of Saint-Aubin, which certainly doesn’t have the reputation of its more illustrious neighbour but which has been known to produce solid whites at (relative) value prices. Would it stand up with the best Chardonnay spots in Burgundy? Um, not so much.
Wine #1: 2006 Jean-Philippe Fichet Meursault Les Gruyaches ($60ish)
This Meursault came from my friend Tom’s cellar and so had the advantage of a bit of bottle age over its tasting mates. Of all the white regions in Burgundy, Meursault may be the most immediately identifiable in a tasting thanks to its bold exuberance and unabashed oakiness; it’s a rock concert where most other white Burgundies are string concertos. One enduring result of this tasting is that I became confident that I could isolate the Meursault out of any Burgundian tasting lineup. It may not seem strange that one area would produce wines with unique flavour profiles as compared to other areas…but the village of Meursault is only 4.3 km away from the village of Puligny-Montrachet (thanks, Google Maps!), and yet the wines are worlds apart. That’s crazy.
Notes: WAY darker than anything I’ve seen yet, a burnished deeper gold. Tremendous luxurious nose of buttered popcorn, smoke, baked/dessert style fruit (Fuzzy Peach candy?) and cinnamon, overlaid by a surprisingly delicate floral aroma. The first thing I noticed on the palate was that this white had actual discernible tannin levels, likely helped along by the amount of oak the wine had seen. Like many oaky Chardonnays, the Meursault was round, rich and creamy, with lush, almost sweet flavours of bananas foster and apple crisp; unlike many other oaky Chards, this one didn’t finish heavy, making it voluptuous but not overwrought. I would definitely track this down again.
Wine #2: 2009 Philippe-Le-Hardi Saint-Aubin En Vesvau ($31)
As mentioned above, this was the stand-in for a Chassagne-Montrachet village wine — Saint-Aubin is only 3.6 km away from Chassagne and of very similar latitude, although it is not accorded anywhere near the acclaim for its wines. This was a switch borne of necessity, and none of us really knew what to expect from this bottle going in. I guarantee that if I didn’t write it down at the time, I would currently have no recollection whatsoever of what the Philippe-Le-Hardi tasted like…generally speaking, that’s not a good sign.
Notes: Quite pale in colour, quiet and unexpressive throughout. Almost no nose at all — faint aromas of light lemon, but not much else. This sort of muted neutrality continues on the palate, where the wine shows a saline quality, some citrus and tart crispness on the short finish. There is no depth of flavour and nothing that makes it stand out; it’s boring, plain and simple.
Wine #3: 2009 Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet ($89)
Just like in the first flight, the Domaine Leflaive stood head and shoulders above the second flight, with its price tag matched by an inner nobility that put it in a class by itself. One of the things that I’ve noticed in writing a year’s worth of wine reviews is that the better wines seem to attract the weirder flavour descriptors, almost as if the “normal” flavours of fruit and flowers and wood can’t quite cover off the complexities that normally come along with a quality bottle. This Burgundy was a classic case in point.
Notes: Now we’re getting somewhere. Intense colour, luxurious aromas that jump out of the glass, and a flavour profile that sets it apart from the rest of the group: talcum powder, celery, pineapple, leather, caramel, sea spray. As bizarre as that sounds, in combination it’s amazing. Elegant yet still rich, impeccably balanced, and with a long, pure finish. Killer.
Next up: going upper crust with the Premier Crus, including the most expensive bottle of Burgundy I’ve ever opened!