Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Tasting and Wine

Fortunately for us who love wine, tasting teaches us most about the subject. This week at the store I lined up a tasting flight consisting of four red Burgundies that are about ten years old. They all come from the same area, around the neighboring villages of Meursault and Volnay. The vintages covered are 1997, 1998, and 2000—not great vintages but good ones that tend to be overlooked. I find the elegance of these vintages perfect for tastings as the character of the wines are revealed well.

Young Burgundy is not the easiest to appreciate, especially in vintages where ripening was difficult, which happen to be most years! But patience is needed. With about ten years or so the wines as if by magic transform. For the impatient wine lover, a ten-year on tasting like this is a great opportunity to understand what all the fuss is about Burgundy.

To get the most education out of a tasting, the wines in the flight and their order have to make sense. In this tasting I start off with the 1998 Blagny Rouge Premier Cru La Piece sous le Bois, Domaine Matrot 1998 ($39.00). This comes from Meursault—if it's a white the appellation is Meursault Blagny. Already drinking peak to my taste, it is cherry-colored and soft-textured with a very attractive sweet fruit and layers of earth and spice. It stands out now for its openness and delicacy allied with a vivid freshness. Anyone who tastes this wine now would find it irresistible.

The second wine in the lineup is the 1998 Blagny Rouge Premier Cru La Piece sous le Bois, Domaine François Jobard 1998 ($49.00). Note that both the vintage and appellation are exactly the same as the first wine, but this second one is from François Jobard. Tasting the two Blagny side-by-side the difference in personalities of these two Meursault-based producers and their respective wines emerge. Matrot's Blagny soars with its sweet, ethereal fruit; while Jobard's Blagny is weighted and close to the ground with notes of undergrowth; it's darker, leaner, and muscular fruit is brooding. You get a sense that this has not reached peak, unlike Matrot's, and it is not a charmer, but serious and complex.

These first two wines explain something of the 1998 vintage character. It's a vintage with high acidity and lean fruit but with very good concentration. With time these wines have softened and unlocked a juicy sweetness.

The third wine in the flight is the 2000 Volnay, Domaine des Comtes Lafon ($42.00). Volnay is a village that lies next door to Meursault. This Volnay is soft but true to form. Its fruit is generous and seductive, with a round, fine texture that feels creamy in the mouth. Its soft acidity and tannins easily make it appealing, but it is not for long-term aging. Yet, what it lacks in structure it makes it up in its surprising depth and finesse. When you have a good producer like Dominique Lafon the vintage may be difficult but, as one discovers after so many tastings, there would be something to like about the wines. In this Volnay that is clear. He achieved it by declassifying the premier cru Clos des Chenes and blending in fruit from young vines in Champans. This is really splendid to drink now just like many 2000s.

I remember in the mid-1990s when Arnaud Ente decided to establish his own domaine after some years of working at Coche-Dury with Jean-François Coche, there was a scramble among US importers to represent him. Ente was Coche's brightest disciple. Kermit Lynch won out and I believe 1997 was the first vintage that Kermit imported. This 1997 Volnay Premier Cru Santenots du Milieu , Domaine Arnaud Ente ($46.00) were from young vines. This is ripe, dark, lush, and really generous. I love the sage, menthol flavor that brightens the fleshy, black cherry; and its texture is so lovely as well, a mix of coarse and fine tannins. It doesn't have the elegance or the finesse of the preceding wines, but it stands out in power and depth of flavor. I think it will age for a while. 1997s have very good concentration and reserve power, just don't expect a lot of elegance.

After tasting through the flight I feel I've learned some new things about wine and discovered facets in these Burgundies I've never known before. Tasting is such a worthwhile exercise, especially if done in a thoughtful format. It hones our tasting skills and makes us appreciate wine better.

1 comment:

  1. I think it's important to appreciate tasting in the right context. As I do more and more of them, I start to recognize that tasting should not be an exercise at finding a "better" wine, but rather an exercise to try several wines and learn something about each. Comparing wines one to the next is not fair to the wines, in my opinion, since in relation to each other, one may seem "better". But I've seen time and time again, that a wine that doesn't show as well in tasting could be quite perfect in a particular scenario with a particular food. And vice versa, something that stood out in tasting, turned out a disappointment when paired with what I had thought it would pair well with. Take each wine for what it is. Smell it, taste it, think it. Tastings help accelerate that process at a fraction of the cost, and that to me is welcome gift.


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