Burgundy: White Tasting, Part I

12 04 2012

It begins: the first 4 of a dozen hopefully-representative white Burgundies.

I acknowledge that it’s definitely been awhile.  I spent my evenings last week cleaning out my basement, then took the Easter weekend off, then faced a total loss of home Internet for a few days, all of which added up to a blog-less streak of epic proportions…sorry about that.  To make it up to you, instead of posting a lonely wine review tonight, I’m diving back into action with the first instalment of a multi-part writeup showcasing the results of the long-planned white Burgundy tasting that I’ve had in the works since January and that fulfills a 2012 New Year’s Resolution of mine.  More on the planning behind the tasting and the rationale for the various wines selected here.

To summarize for those of you who don’t feel like clicking on the link above, the goal of the tasting was to open bottles from the four main Burgundy quality classifications (Bourgogne Blanc, village level, Premier Cru, Grand Cru), spanning  some of the key sub-regions for Burgundian whites (Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet, Meursault, Corton-Charlemagne), to see how the wines from each of the sub-areas differed from those from others and how the wines from the same sub-areas varied from producer to producer and between quality levels.  I will vouch from experience that delving to the bottom of these analytical quandaries required a lot of drinking.  Such is life.

Cork Ratings for wines 1-3: 2.5/10, 6.5/10, 5/10. Meh.

There were 12 bottles open for the tasting and an esteemed panel of four judges with glasses at the ready; we tried the wines in four flights grouped by quality classification, going in ascending order from the base Bourgogne Blancs to the Grand Crus.  My actual tasting notes from the first flight are below, and the write-ups of the other three flights will be coming soon to an Internet near you.  At the end of the day, while the tasting didn’t instantly reveal the inner mysteries of Burgundy to me, it was a useful (and highly entertaining) crash course on a region that I haven’t spent nearly enough time getting to know.


To make sure that I had time to make proper notes of all of the wines, and because I had lingering doubts about my ability to continue to hold a pen after the first half dozen bottles, I opened three of the four Bourgogne Blancs the night before the big tasting and wrote up my thoughts in advance.  These three bottles had a fair bit in common with each other:  they were all 2009s, all in the $23-$30 range, and all 13% alcohol, and perhaps as a sign that they were all bottled with export markets in mind, they all listed the name of their underlying grape (Chardonnay) on their labels, a relative rarity for Burgundy.  The fourth bottle of Bourgogne Blanc opened the following night was a different beast entirely:  still an 09, but double the price and with a prestige and pedigree to match.  The first three wines are for opening on a Tuesday night; the fourth begs for a higher occasion, or at least a Tuesday night half a decade down the road.

Wine #1:  2009 Maison Roche de Bellene Vielles Vignes Bourgogne Blanc ($23)

Roche de Bellene is a negociant, which means that it doesn’t grow its own grapes but instead buys grapes or finished wine from local growers.  However, it has at its disposal owner Nicolas Potel, one of the more highly-regarded winemakers in Burgundy, to ensure that quality remains high and style stays true to Burgundian tradition.

Notes:  The first three wines are all similar in colour:  pale straw/lemon with a wide clear rim.  The Bellene is probably the most intense visually, but all are fairly benign.  Clear oak influence on the nose, with aromas of smoke, charred wood, leather moccasins, vanilla and cream layered over soft apple fruit.  Lemon, green apple, grass and char on the palate; the oak doesn’t lend smoothness as expected, so the wine tastes kind of choppy.  Medium/medium+ body, surprisingly showy alcohol for only 13%, but a nice streak of tart acidity.  In the end, the whole of the wine is less than the sum of its parts.

84-86 points

Wine #2:  2009 Alex Gambal Bourgogne Blanc ($30)

Sadly, only one of these showed up.

Alex Gambal is that rare Burgundy producer who isn’t French; he’s American, but French-trained, and his wines are still an authentic Burgundy experience.  His Bourgogne Blanc takes advantage of the fact that BB can come from grapes all over the region:  this bottle is made out of crops from Volnay, Meursault, Haute Cotes de Beaune and Savigny-les-Beaune.

Notes:  Brighter, peachier, more floral nose – still obvious vanillin oak notes, but more subtly integrated.  Best nose of the first 3 by far.  On the palate, rounder, smoother, more luxurious and more complete than the Roche de Bellene, with riper fruit, no greenness, and a slight creaminess without being a loose oak bomb.  White flowers, banana, peach, bath salts and exotic spice flavours are matched up with softer acidity and a fairly lengthy finish.  Drinking great right now.  [It should be noted that I liked this wine way more than anyone else on the tasting panel.  Good thing I’m the one doing the writing.]

88-89 points

Wine #3:  2009 Pierre Morey Bourgogne Blanc ($29)

Morey is based out of Meursault, so it’s likely that a large chunk of the grapes going into his base Bourgogne also come from there.  This wine is made organically and biodynamically, but unfortunately it didn’t get a chance to shine in this case.

Notes:  Less intense but a sharper, more clipped nose:  citrus, greenness and a whiff of damp mustiness that makes me wonder if the bottle is corked/flawed.  My suspicions were confirmed on the palate, as it was hard to ignore the car-exhausty, metallic, cardboard-y overlay lingering on top of all other flavours.  The wine is trying to shine through with apple-cinnamon and sweet oak, but it can’t quite do it; it just doesn’t taste right.

No Rating (Corked)

Wine #4:  2009 Domaine Leflaive Bourgogne Blanc ($55)

Domaine Leflaive is one of the leading producers of white Burgundy, with vineyard holdings in many of the Chardonnay crown jewels of the region:  Montrachet, Batard-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet, Meursault and more.  Even its base Bourgogne reflects the aristocracy of its station, which is no surprise if it contains grapes from even some of these top areas.  This is a different beast than the first three wines of the night.

Notes:  Deeper, richer colour than other 3 Bourgognes Blanc, more warm and golden.  Toast, caramel, butterscotch on the nose, but more closed and less aromatic at the moment than the Gambal; not much fruit showing yet.  Lush, oily body, and almost languid at the start, but the wine’s huge steely mineral/acid spine rears up more and more the longer it stays in your mouth.  Piercing acid scorches through baked apple, pear, lemon drop and toast flavours.  Viscous, but tight and racy at the same time…not necessarily more immediately enjoyable than the Gambal, but definitely the most Serious Wine of the bunch and the one that will clearly improve with time.

88-91 points

Next time:  Flight #2!



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