Questions arising from a tasting of 2009 and 2010 Burgundy: which is the best vintage? Are young wines any good? What is going on with white Burgundy? How does Coche do it? What is the point of scores, notes, etc, etc?
At the end of the last dinner I did like this one, the real deal BSD at the table derided us schoolboys for our note-taking, our academic appraisal of the wines and so on. And he had a point. Wine, you see, is for enjoying. At its most simple, it provides refreshment with a meal and gently intoxicates you, frees up the mind, the conversation. It lubricates both the process of eating and the joy of communicating. At the top end it can offer the occasional theophany. But, like music or poetry, get too academic about it and it’s like writing notes during the act of love: you miss the point, the point being the pleasure.
Last week I tasted nine pairs of 2009 & 2010 Burgundy at the brilliant Zucca. Notes and a write up of the tasting are published on the Renaissance blog – linked at the bottom – my other thoughts are below.
First off: “best”: “Of the most excellent or desirable type or quality”.
Google has changed our lives. From anywhere with a signal I can find out anything. We all know this and, probably, all stop and think about it a bit. Think about it for a while, and google is also changing our language. “Best pub in Soho”, “best wine blog”, “best white Burgundy”. The definition of “best” is changing – it’s turned into a search term rather than an adjective – and, moreover, when it comes to white Burgundy, pubs or blogs, the answer is of course subjective. And – this is where the academic bit becomes relevant – the “best wine” isn’t always the one that gives most pleasure. 2010s – the whites especially – are technically better than the 2009s in terms of balance, structure, &c. BUT the whites, right now, sometimes give a bit more pleasure.
We drank two pairs of Volnay Champans: one from Domaine du Marquis d’Angerville, one from Domaine des Comtes Lafon. The guy that I now spend most of my working day arguing with panned the Lafon before he even saw it. It was going to be rich, gloopy, overdone. And, with the 2009, he may have had a point. With the 2010s, though, I couldn’t say which was “best”. On Thursday evening the d’Angerville was the most amenable; I have a feeling that, in ten years’ time, the Lafon will be the one. The best 2010 Volnay.
Second off: are young wines any good?
By which I mean this: winemaking is advancing. Hygiene, technology: that sort of thing. The young wines of today are cleaner, more polished, denser and “better” made than they were a decade ago. But, back to that “better” bit: are they? The proliferation of wine critics, especially those that score wine out of 100 has, I think, changed the way wine is made. I’m not talking about “Parkerization”, I’m talking about wines that show well when tasted, as opposed to being drunk. And, moreover, made to taste well in youth, rather than drink well with age. To my mind, and palate, it seems that many wines seem to wear more make up than they used to. Is that best? I don’t know.
Third: what is going on with white Burgundy?
White Burgundy is maybe not lost, but it’s having a hard time. Premature oxidisation, or “premox”, has given the market for these wines a thorough kicking over the past decade. 2005s, 2006s, 2008s – even some 2010s – have already succumbed, and one now almost expects disappointment when opening a bottle that is more than five years old. White Burgundy used to be the wine that grounded me, the wine that I thought was genuinely worth the money; these days it is a gamble.
Maybe related to this, and something that I have noted more and more in the past year or two, is how some producers of white Burgundy seem to be chasing a style rather than letting their wines, or rather their soil, speak or sing. This may be premox related (both cause and effect), points related (big points do sell wines) or neither, but so many white Burgundies seem to be wearing outfits that don’t quite fit them. The style that many are going for is either Coche or Leflaive. The breathtaking energy on the nose of a glass of Coche is something else, as is the effortless precision and toast on Leflaive, but both taste of the grower rather than the vineyard. Coche screams Coche at you; it doesn’t scream Meursault, likewise Leflaive and Puligny: the clothes have become more important than the model.
Both of these domaines pull the trick off with both ease and panache. But there are more than a few of their neighbours whose wines seem to be trying the same trick but want for the magic. Coche and Leflaive are tailoring of the highest quality: seemingly seamless. Some of the wines that imitate the same style can come across, at best, as being distinctly off the peg. At worst they seem like a man wearing a borrowed suit.
Fourth: How does Coche-Dury do it?
I don’t know. After the tosh immediately above I have to report that the bottle of 2009 Meursault Genevrières from M. Coche was breathtakingly good, and possibly the best white wine of the year for me. Thank you, Mr Silk.
Fifth: what is the point of scores, notes, &c.?
Compare my recent notes on Clos de Tart and those of Neal Martin and it’s like we tasted different wines (though the pattern is similar). On three or four wines, Neal is at least a couple of points higher than I would be, and he’s not the kind of taster that throws big numbers around. The reason for this, I reckon, is where the wines were tasted. Neal tasted at the domaine, I tasted in Corney & Barrow’s London offices. Wines taste better where they were made for a myriad of reasons. The boring one is that wine doesn’t like travelling, and some wines get more carsick than others. Other influencing factors include air pressure, the lunar cycle and, quite obviously, one’s mood. I am almost always happier in the Côte d’Or than I am in the City of London. I’d put the case that most Burgophiles are. And wines simply taste nicer when you’re happy. Rosé will always taste better in Provence.
Which doesn’t answer the question on scores, notes, &c., though there is much, much more to come on this topic.
The dinner was held at Zucca. This is my favourite restaurant in London, and I am genuinely heartbroken that its doors will be closing just before Christmas. Zucca is a bit like what I look for in the perfect wine, which is all about balance. Nothing sticks out. The food is of impeccable quality: simple ingredients of the highest calibre, assembled without fuss or trickery. The service is an example of what it should be: you don’t notice it happening. No one is in your face yet, seconds before you realise that you need something, someone is there with exactly what you wanted. You can drink well off the list at any budget, and they are corkage-friendly. Best restaurant in London? Back to the definition and you have it. Zucca is, in every way, of the most excellent or desirable type or quality.
I thank my very dear friend Boy Wonder for organising the evening, and gently nudge him again on the three questions request. And thank you KJJ for the picture of the bottles that I have nicked without permission.
Notes on the wines and a bit more drabble at Renaissance.