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Burgundy quality: Bad To The Beaune

The climatic conditions were unkind to Burgundy quality in 1998 and producers had to run the gamut of vinous afflictions from rot to powdery mildew and even sunburn. In spite of it all, many growers managed to make the best of a bad year. Tim Atkin, Stephen Brook and Steven Spurrier wade through the sea of new-releases to bring you the cream of the crop
  • The Burgandy quality of the 1998 reds is extremely mixed.
  • Burgundophiles should pay as much attention to individual vineyard sites as to producers and appellations.
  • Wines from lesser villages, be it the Côte d’Or or the Côte Chalonnaise, should be avoided.
  • ‘I have seen suggestions in the wine press that 1998 is a very good vintage for white Burgundy, superior to 1997, but this is not the case,’says Jasper Morris.

However you look at it, 1998 was a difficult vintage for red burgundy producers. Everything short of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse descended on the region at some point in the growing season: frost, hail, snow, rot, heat stress, powdery mildew and sunburn all made an appearance. In such circumstances, it’s no surprise that yields and burgandy quality were down especially in Volnay, Chambolle-Musigny and Gevrey-Chambertin. The Domaine Marquis d’Angerville, for instance, produced only 32 barrels of Volnay Champans in 1998, substantially less than the 88 from the same vineyard in 1999.

The quality of the 1998 reds is extremely mixed. Generalisations are of questionable validity in Burgundy, even in comparatively homogenous vintages, but in 1998 they seem doubly so to me. Some growers produced concentrated and harmonious wines in spite of the elements, but others were clearly defeated by them, including some of Burgundy’s better-known names. Selection was vital to produce top-notch reds, as was a strong nerve (not to mention a bit of good fortune) in selecting picking dates. The best wines to emerge from the 1998 vintage have more structure and concentration than the 1997s, but too many wines seem hard, charmless and lacking in fruit. Rot clearly affected quality.


A time to buy? (prices per case inc. VAT and duty)

Are any of the reds worth buying, especially given the high quality of the 1999s in barrel? In my view, 1998 reds should be purchased with considerable care. Burgundophiles should pay as much attention to individual vineyard sites as to producers and appellations. (Wines are marked on a scale of one to five stars). Judging by the wines on show at the Morris & Verdin and Justerini & Brooks tastings, there were few successes at the generic level, although Patrice Rion’s bright, cherry fruity Bourgogne Rouge, Les Bons Bétons (two stars, £98.70 Morris & Verdin), was as dependable as ever.

The two tastings suggested that wines from lesser villages, be it the Côte d’Or or the Côte Chalonnaise, should be avoided. I tasted a number of wines from Marsannay, Santenay, Saint-Aubin, Auxey-Duresses, Monthélie and Chorey, and nothing made me want to reach for my chequebook. If you intend to buy red 1998s, my advice is to set your sights higher and concentrate on the top appellations, such as Vosne-Romanée, Volnay, Pommard, Corton, Morey-Saint-Denis, Clos de Vougeot and Gevrey-Chambertin.

My favourite wines at Morris & Verdin were divided equally between the Côte de Nuits and the Côte de Beaune. From the former, I was highly impressed by the Vosne-Romanée Les Beaux-Monts, Daniel Rion (four stars, £293.75), with its perfumed Pinot nose, full fleshy fruit, sweet oak, impressive structure and exquisite balance. The Clos de Vougeot, René Engel (five stars, £423), was a much bigger wine altogether, with masses of deep, dark, ultra-concentrated fruit and plenty of oak. The wine needs at least another decade in bottle but, in that time, should develop into something remarkable.


Beef on the Beaune-Burgandy quality(prices per case inc. VAT & duty)

From the Côte de Beaune, I enjoyed two particularly well-priced wines: the fleshy, well-structured, attractively oaked 1998 Volnay, Clos de la Cave des Ducs, Carré Courbin (three stars, £217), and the 1998 Beaune, Les Vignes-Franches, Bouzereau, (three stars, £182). Michel Bouzereau is better known as a white wine producer, but this savoury, chunky, well-balanced Pinot shows increasing confidence with his reds.

The real stars of the Justerini & Brooks tasting were Rémi Rollin’s Corton-Charlemagne and the whites from Jean-Noël Gagnard, but the top reds weren’t far behind. Here, too, the best Pinots tended to come from the best sites. If you’re looking for a comparative bargain, I would suggest a case of Robert Chevillon’s supple, approachable Nuits-Saint-Georges (three stars, £192). Otherwise, I’d concentrate on the £200+ end of the market.

Four red wines stood out from the bunch. From the Côte de Beaune, I loved the powerful, old vine concentration of the Pommard, Clos des Boucherottes, Coste-Caumartin (four stars, £222), and the elegance and varietal purity of the Volnay Clos des Ducs, Marquis d’Angerville, (four stars, £399). From the Côte de Nuits, I’d be very tempted by a case of the dark, chocolatey, violet-scented Aloxe-Corton, Les Vercots, Follin-Arvelet, (four stars, £220), and Bruno Clair’s concentrated, richly textured Morey-Saint-Denis En La Rue, (three stars, £207). All of these wines are well-priced and will reward cellaring, but if I were a serious red burgundy collector I’d still be tempted to wait for 12 months and buy lots of 1999s instead.

Stephen Brook reports on red burgandy quality wines (prices per case ex-cellars)

Burgundy did not have an easy year in 1998. The first half of September was inconveniently wet. And when the rain stopped for 10 days, not all the grapes were fully ripe, but those who waited and picked before the rain resumed, had excellent fruit. Inevitably the wines are patchy, but very fine at the top level and more structured than the 1997s.

Haynes, Hanson & Clark showed only part of their extensive range in January. Some new estates were represented – Jean Parent and Denis et Françoise Clair – but both showed a regrettable tendency towards producing dark, plummy wines, fruity and forward, but atypical of Burgundy. Nonetheless, the Clair’s cheapest wine, a lush juicy Hautes Côtes de Beaune, was delicious and a bargain at £55.

Chassagne the Dream (prices per case ex-cellars)

With the red Chassagnes from Marc Morey there was a return to Burgundian finesse, with little of the earthiness that can mar these wines. Because the village is justly renowned for its white rather than for its red. Morey’s reds are attractively priced and good bets for medium-term drinking. Chandon de Briailles is an estate that has always stressed delicacy rather than power, and 1998 is no exception: lovely, graceful wines. The Pernand-Vergelesses Ile des Vergelesses is a good buy at £129.90.

The wines from the excellent négociant house of Champy were better at the top end. The simple Chorey-lès-Beaune is dull. However, all the wines were true to their appellations and included a splendid Vosne-Romanée Suchots, powerful and oaky but not too extracted. I can never work up enthusiasm for the burly wines of Anne-Françoise Gros, which tend to taste much the same whatever their appellation.

The Nuits-Saint-Georges ‘Fleurières’ from Jean-Jacques Confuron was a real winner, with ripe, intense raspberry fruit, supple on the palate but well structured. Even better were the wines from the Domaine des Lambrays, and its straight Morey-Saint-Denis was more like a wine of premier cru quality.

At the generic burgundy tasting, there were few 1998s on show. The best were the deeply coloured, robust but succulent Pommards from the often under-rated Coste-Caumartin estate; the vigorous Pommard Fremiers was the best of their range. Domaine Raquillet from Mercurey showed a fine line-up of these good-value wines, of which the best – raspberry-scented, then supple, fruity and spicy on the palate – was the premier cru Les Veleys.

Steven Spurrier on white burgundy

Opinion on 1998 white burgundies is varied. Bibendum quoted Clive Coates MW – ‘overall, a very good vintage indeed’ – to launch their offer. Justerini & Brooks stated: ‘The white wines are of a quality just short of the great 1996s.’ Yet, Jasper Morris MW found the wines very variable: ‘I have seen suggestions in the wine press that 1998 is a very good vintage for white Burgundy, superior to 1997, but this is not the case.’ At Domaine Jean-Noël Gagnard, 1998 was described as ‘the year of the vigneron’. While at Louis Jadot it was ‘the year of the appellation’. However, everyone agreed on three things: there was less white wine made in Burgundy in 1998 than in 1997, the acidities were lower and the prices were higher. My own impression between the two years is that in 1998, Chablis and the Mâconnais were slightly better than in 1997, but it was a slightly less good year in the Côte de Beaune.

Morris and Verdin (prices per bottle inc. VAT and duty)

A small range was shown prior to their major tasting in March. Olivier Merlin’s version of the new appellation Viré-Clessé (£11) with a fine, lemony colour and good oak will be very good in 12 months. Ever reliable, Michel Bouzereau’s Meursault Grands Charrons (£19) was broad, ripe and nutty and almost ready to drink. François and Vincent Jouard’s three premier cru Chassagne-Montrachets were superb, Les Champ Gains (£25) being both honeyed and minerally, and Les Chaumées (£30), part of the Clos de la Truffière, more fleshy and complex and worth the extra money.

Bibendum (prices per case ex-cellars)

This tasting was, as usual, stronger in reds than whites, but both Domaine Denogent in the Mâconnais and Jean-Paul Droin in Chablis were very good indeed. Denogent’s Mâcon-Fuissé La Tâche (£80), wonderfully fat and floral but with a minerally grip, seemed about as good as Mâcon blanc can get, while of the three cuvées of Pouilly-Fuissé shown, Les Carrons (£165) was exceptionally honeyed and concentrated. Droin’s showed elegant, pure Chablis: a beautiful premier cru Vaillons (£110), just bettered by a longer-flavoured Montmains (£110), but both were beaten by a ripe and structured grand cru Les Clos (£195), which needs four or five years to show at its best. From the Côte d’Or, Domaine Morey-Coffinet’s Chassagne-Montrachets were excellent, especially the premier cru La Romanée (£250), which underlined the appellation’s success in 1998.

Justerini and Brooks (prices per bottle inc. VAT and duty)

Justerini’s positive view was borne out by the very high quality of the wines on show. Les Combettes (£18.50) and the Cuvée Vieilles Vignes (£21) from Château de Fuissé had all the ripe, broad, long-lasting fruit that this estate is known for. Henri Prudhon’s Saint-Aubin Les Murgers des Dents de Chien (£13.50) had finesse, complexity and balance. Eric de Suremain’s Rully premier cru Les Preaux (£13) was more richly Côte d’Or than Côte-Chalonnaise in style; the three Corton-Charlemagnes were magnificent and very different: Remi Rollin’s (£43) being firm and limestoney, Follin-Arbelet’s (£45), more rich and buttery and Bruno Clair’s (£47), balancing both richness and leanness. Domaine Albert Grivault showed what could be achieved in frost-damaged Meursault, with a lovely, old vine Meursault (£21) and a superb Les Perrières (£31), and Jean-Noël Gagnard’s Chassagnes had the real depth and complexity that Domaine Sauzet’s Pulignys seemed to lack, from a lovely Les Masures (£21) to a grand cru quality Les Caillerets (£35), ending with a quite exceptional Bâtard-Montrachet (£72).

Haynes, Hanson and Clarke (prices ex-cellars)

A range of elegant wines. Only Domaine Marc Morey’s Chassagne-Montrachets showed less well than expected from this successful appellation. Domaine Roulot’s Bourgogne Blanc (£68.95) showed its usual Meursault origins, while Franck Grux’s Meursault Meix-Chavaux (£199.50 duty paid) was rich and complex. Both the Saint-Aubin Les Murgers des Dents de Chien (£106.40) from Denis and Françoise Clair and the Pernand-Vergelesses Ile de Vergelesses (£148.35) from Chandon de Briailles – whose Corton Blanc (£333.90) had superb presence – were wines of real class.

Louis Jadot

The Jadot wines from the Côte de Beaune are magnificent reflections of their appellations. The only dissapointment came from the Puligny-Montrachet premier crus were disappointing, with the exception of a lovely Clos de la Garenne from Domaine du Duc de Magenta. The Grands Crus, especially Chevalier-Montrachet Les Demoiselles from Jadot’s own estate, were white burgundy at its very best.

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