After months of inactivity, we are off. It hasn’t been writers’ block, more a lack of anything interesting to write about and, to a not inconsiderable degree, auto-ennui. And then a Burgundy vintage comes along.
BBR kindly invited me to two 2016 Burgundy tastings this January, the first being their “main” en-primeur tasting, which rather flummoxed me. The only pattern I could find was that of tasters telling me that it “was their sort of vintage” and that they liked the freshness of the wines after the burly hot fruit of the 2015 vintage (I do love the way that a vintage can lose its shine as soon as it’s all been sold). But I didn’t really “get” the wines, and don’t feel entirely comfortable making any sort of judgement on the vintage without tasting some more.
Moreover, there is no shortage of commentary by far more experienced and practised tasters than me. The report that I have enjoyed most is that of Mr Jasper Morris MW, who is now free to say what he likes about the wines that he tastes. For comprehensive, sober and well-written notes and observation click here and follow the instructions.
The second tasting is one that I foolishly skipped last year. BBR represent Olivier Bernstein, whose wines are shown separately from the rest of their offering, and I sort of understand why. More importantly, as far as I was concerned, my palate was working.
Olivier Bernstein is an “haute-couture” negociant, one that BBR have represented since the 2007 vintage. He has a tiny cellar in Gevrey, and pays top-dollar for swanky fruit from vineyards that he and his team look after themselves.
I knew his wines from the start. They have always been impeccably made, though they were maybe a little too “glossy” for my palate in the first few vintages. That said, I recall being seduced by his 2008s, upon which I commented “I do not like the taste of winemaking, but I do love those”. Or some such tosh. The last vintage of his that I had tasted was 2010, and I was intrigued to see how his 2016s were, especially having tasted what seemed like a mixed bag so far and having read Mr Morris’s report.
The wines do not disappoint, and were not what I expected at all. Herewith some notes:
(From three plots: Carougeot, Epointures and Evocelles)
Gentle weight here. Some breeding evident and this isn’t brutish. Rich and plush in the mouth, though there is a freshness here, and a savoury/spicy finish. The freshness persists. Very good.
2016 Chambolle-Musigny 1er cru Les Lavrottes
A touch more in terms of intricacy rather than power. A perfume rather than a bouquet. Ripe and plush again in the mouth, though not at all fat or wonky. Finishes with a lifted and savoury freshness.
2016 Gevrey-Chambertin 1er cru Les Champeaux
Some meat. Some weight. A level up from the Chambolle with lovely Gevrey punchy fruit. The finish is a little dry but the fruit keeps up. Long and classy. These are very nicely put together.
2016 Gevrey-Chambertin 1er cru Les Cazetiers
A bit of toast on the nose. There is depth to the perfume, which entices you back for more. And just gorgeous in the mouth. There is some terroir here, that inimitable Burgundian depth. Long. This is very, very, good. And long, long, long. This could probably cut it as a grand cru.
This seems a little more loose-knit. Some silkiness and a little bit of cream. Growing. Rich yet poised in the mouth. This is very, very classy and then gets a little bit “animal”, a bit developed in the finish. Ripe. Very good.
2016 Clos Vougeot
(From the middle of the strip at the Vosne end)
Some Vougeot crunch to this. Pure. Lifted. And exactly as it should be in the mouth. Vougeot lift, light and crunchy. Floral.
2016 Clos de la Roche
Not giving much on the nose. A hint of rosewater. All here in the mouth. Pulled-back poise. Weight, and really quite complete fruit. Savoury. All here. Long, lifted and rather good.
2016 Bonnes Mares
Rounder on the nose. Some weight here. And full and plush and he has caught the character of the vineyard well. Spicy and fresh finish.
Boxy punch; squaring up to you. Angular power and a touch of cream. A steely, lifted structure in the mouth. As with most of these I don’t want to spit. There is a poised restraint of power. Very good. Grand vin.
2016 Chambertin Clos de Bèze
Weight again, and even the nose seems to be impeccably tailored. Very punchy in the mouth though again there is lots here but it all seems so restrained. Savoury. Length and depth in abundance. These are almost boringly good. Long, long, long.
Chocolate box on the nose. Clean. And full and weighty. A perfect balance of sweet and savoury, Meat. Lift. This is excellent.
I think it’s fair to say that I liked them, and liked them a lot more than expected. Before leaving I asked Mr Bernstein just three questions: where did the village Gevrey come from? Where in the Clos does his Vougeot come from? And who makes his barrels?
I could have guessed the answer to the last question. I’m not good enough to pick Jupilles or Fontainebleau blind, but I am good enough to detect and appreciate the impeccable use of barrels. Mr Bernstein is one of those guys that chooses his own wood, oversees the seasoning himself, then works with the cooper directly. As with his wines, the barrels are tailored. And he knows what he is doing.
And – this is what impressed me most – there is a definite style to these, and one that I like. The wines are polished, and beneath the polish lies a clear quality, and a savoury, raw sort of edge. A Daniel Craig James Bond, if you like (though wearing the correct timepiece).