Burgundy: White Tasting, Part IV

26 04 2012

OK, time to bring this long and winding road of a tasting review to a close.  I had set this up so that we’d end on a high note with the most prestigious bottles in the tasting, the illustrious Grand Crus, but for reasons outside their control, the drinking experience ended up being somewhat anticlimactic.  And no, it wasn’t because we were 10 bottles in by this point.  That’s what made the next morning anticlimactic.


A.k.a. over $300 worth of wine that really shouldn't be open yet.

Grand Cru vineyards are the rarest, best-positioned, most historic, highest-quality growing areas in all of Burgundy…or at least their classification is meant to reflect as much.  As you might expect, Grand Crus come in very limited numbers (only 32 in the Cote d’Or, according to my friend the Internet) and they produce minute quantities of wine each year with prices to match their prestige and scarcity.  I didn’t have the overflowing bank account to go too crazy and delve into the elite of white Burgundian GCs — the series of adjoining Grand Crus bearing the “Montrachet” name, including Le Montrachet, Batard-Montrachet, Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet, etc. are almost certainly the creme de la creme of white Burgundy, but they’re also a hilarious pipe dream in my current circumstances — so instead I turned my focus to two wines from the well-regarded but much cheaper Grand Cru of Corton-Charlemagne.  Unfortunately, both bottles were from relatively recent vintages, and we quickly discovered that, with great white Burgundy, time is your ally.

Wine #1:  2008 Alex Gambal Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru ($180)

This bottle was recently featured in an excellent blog entry by Matt Browman of Highlander Wine & Spirits, where it got far more attention than I’m able to give it here.  It was certainly a totally different animal than Gambal’s base Bourgogne Blanc, which we tried back in Flight #1:  while that bottle was enjoyable for immediate consumption, this one was clearly striving for something more.  However, it was also built to be opened after well over a decade in the bottle, and we gave it just over 3 years.  Most of the other members of my esteemed tasting panel preferred this wine over the other Corton-Charlemagne that was opened, but I wasn’t so sure.

Notes:  Quieter nose, super tight — very hard to get a lot out of it.  Maple?  Honeycomb?  Also a distinct almond nuttiness.  Different approach and composition than the other wines, somehow cleaner with huge acid and bright citrus notes, but currently displaying a walled-off sort of austerity and a nail polish-y quality that makes it hard to delve into too deeply.  Clearly not ready to go yet — like a TV where the antenna is fuzzy.  I didn’t feel right giving this a rating because what it is now seems like a pale shadow of what it will be, and I’m not about to pretend that I’m at a point in my wine-drinking life where I can accurately make that kind of projection in a Grand Cru’s infancy.

No Rating

Wine #2:  2009 Bonneau du Martray Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru ($165)

If opening a 2008 white Burgundy Grand Cru isn’t a good idea right now, opening an ’09 is even worse, but that’s the task we set out for ourselves.  Bonneau du Martray is one of the top names producing Corton-Charlemagne, and this bottle came highly recommended, so I was excited to see what it had to offer.  As it turns out, my excitement remained after I tasted the wine, but I couldn’t quite articulate the reasons why it had me so jazzed.

Notes:  A touch of petillance in the glass and a burnished pale golden colour.  Much different nose than the Gambal, with dried popcorn, potpourri, bath soap and something distinctly bitter (blood?  copper?  Sharpie?).  On the palate, it fills all the voids in your mouth instantly, somehow hitting all the taste buds at the same time.  Although I couldn’t properly pick out and itemize separate flavours, the wine had an underlying energy that the Gambal didn’t have, a life and vivacity that will sing even more when the bottle has a chance to settle down and come together.  Right now, all the wine’s layers are so compacted that it just tastes tight and compressed, but it just feels like there’s something special there, much moreso than the last bottle.  If you have this bottle at home, invite me over in 2020.

No Rating

Thanks, white Burgundy -- I'm a believer.

After we tasted through all four flights — Bourgogne Blanc, Village-level, Premier Cru, Grand Cru — we started mixing and matching to see what kind of difference quality and vineyard classification makes.  It was absolutely remarkable.  When you taste 4 Bourgogne Blancs side by side and move up to 3 Premier Crus or 2 Grand Crus side by side, you’re always comparing similar quality wines, which makes it hard to discern the extent to which you’re ascending the Burgundian wine hierarchy.  But when you go back and taste Domaine Leflaive’s Bourgogne Blanc against the producer’s 1er Cru Les Pucelles?  Holy crap.  There are reasons the Premier Cru costs nearly 4 times as much, and those reasons — the density, concentration, complexity, elegance, structure and sheer luxury of the higher quality wine — become immediately apparent when you go back and forth between glasses of each.  If you don’t have the patience and budget to buy multiple examples of each quality level but you want to help get a better sense of Burgundy, grab a bottle of Bourgogne, Village wine and Premier Cru from the same producer and the same vintage and open them all at once.  It’s fascinating.

Whew — done!  And only nearly a month from the tasting date…colour me efficient.  You have no idea how great it will be to write a review of a SINGLE wine again.  Thanks for reading, and at some point in the future, look out for the red Burgundy equivalent of this taste-a-thon on PnP!



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