A miraculous, warm September saved the day in Burgundy, enabling the best growers to make elegant whites that should appeal to the UK palate, says SARAH MARSH MW
Vintage variation may be an intriguing part of the diversity of Burgundy for the wine lover, but it can upset the most easygoing of vignerons. In the aftermath of the scorching 2003 came the pallid summer of 2004, and nerves were taut across Burgundy. Then, in the unpredictable way of the great winemaking regions of the world, fortunes changed at the 11th hour to produce good, if not yet great white wines. As ever, selectivity is key.
COTE DE BEAUNE
The season got off to a good start with a successful flowering. However, June and July were cool. The gloomy outlook was compounded by a serious outbreak of oidium (vine mildew). When the sun was most needed for ripening in August, the weather was cloudy and relatively cold, and rain swelled the berries. By the end of the month François Mikulski in Meursault was not alone in his gloomy outlook. ‘There is a saying. If two months of the last three are good, you save the quality.’ With sugar levels perilously low at this stage – in some cases as low as 7? potential alcohol – such pessimism seemed justified. Given that grapes typically ripen 1? a week, four fine weeks were needed. Mikulski gave up hope, calling a contact in Rully to make a Crémant de Bourgogne from his harvest.
Then, there was a miracle. The whole of September was perfect. Not hot, but the sky was open and clear with exceptional light. A light north wind helped concentrate both sugar and acidity and keep the fungus at bay. The only challenge remaining was to harvest as late as possible, but also to have finished before the October rain.
THE FINAL ANALYSIS
Sugar levels were just sufficient with careful vineyard management. The effects of a cool season were compounded by a large crop, which requires more energy to ripen. In 2004 the vines compensated for the low yields of 2003 with high fertility. Frank Grux at Maison Olivier Leflaive estimates that across the Côte, the average yield was 15–20% higher than the previous year.
Only those who rigorously debudded ripened their crop, and most I spoke to also green harvested. Like many, Gérard Boudot at Etienne Sauzet finds it sufficient to debud to maintain equilibrium in most years. Yet in 2004 he was forced to green harvest.
The malic acid was also particularly high in 2004. When I visited in June 2005, many wines were still going through malolactic fermentation. Although the sweeter tartaric acid was normal, the overall impression in 2004 is of firm to racy acidity.
This is a mixed vintage – at best it is good, but not great. There will be some lean, mean, green wines. As ever in more marginal conditions, the best advice is to follow the conscientious growers. Selection was paramount. The young and talented Olivier Lamy at Domaine Hubert Lamy in St-Aubin was not alone in harvesting in several tries to optimise maturity. Deselection of oidium was also important. Given the firm acidity, those wines with sufficient extract should age well. There are some exceptional wines, and surprisingly I found many from higher vineyards, where the minerality and high tones were emphasised. In general the whites should begin drinking more quickly than the 2002s, although the very best wines may take longer, because of the firm acidic structure.
The vintage seems to suit Meursault, accentuating its finer characters – in contrast with 2003, which exaggerated its coarser ones. I found good consistency here throughout the AC hierarchy, from Bourgogne upwards. Jean-Pierre Latour of Latour-Giraud in Meursault comments: ‘It is a very juicy vintage, citrussy, and with similar flavours to 2002.’
Latour-Giraud’s portfolio starts with a deliciously fruity Bourgogne. Fruit ripeness seemed less consistent in Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet. There are some very pretty and pure wines from both St-Aubin and Auxey Duresses.
In the hands of quality-conscious vignerons, 2004 is a good terroir vintage for whites. The wines shouldn’t be overly concentrated, and the vintage as a whole should appeal to the British palate. Many white Burgundies are fresh and elegant. The best are very pure, mineral and vertical.
Some growers draw comparisons with 2001. Michel Niellon detects a similar elegance. They certainly share the same firm acidity, but as Pierre Morey (Domaines Leflaive and Pierre Morey) remarks, ‘for me the purity of 2004 is better than 2001’. He goes back to 1993 to draw a better parallel, ‘but the 2004 is purer than 1993, more mineral and vertical, and the severity of structure is more interesting, if the yield is not too high, otherwise there may not be the concentration.”
Gérard Boudot describes it as, ‘a good year, very classic, but not 2002. It is possible to compare it with 2000 and 2001. Very good fruit and good balance… if you reduced the quantity of grapes, the aroma of 2000 and the acidity of 2001.’ Carillon and Lamy both put it somewhere between 2000 and 2002, although less concentrated and rich than 2002.
Chablis avoided frost problems in 2004, but had a mediocre summer. June was dry but cool. Although warmer, July lacked sunshine. August was blighted by continuous rain, and humidity encouraged grey rot. Three warm weeks in September saved the day.
Many growers extended the period on lees in 2004. This was accompanied by reserved use of bâtonnage. Roulot for one was conscious that too much stirring would ‘hide the diversity, particularly important in this terroir vintage’. This perhaps ties in with a steady trend to use less new oak. Caillarat has significantly cut back. At Jobard Morey, Ehret uses 15–20% new wood on the premier cru and looks for a delicate toast not to ‘mark’ the wine with wood.
STYLE AND QUALITY
This is a classic vintage, although not of the calibre of 2002, as it doesn’t have the sleek plumpness. However, it is very typical Chablis – lean and appley with firm acidity. Given the tendency for high yields, there are dilute wines, but good growers achieved decent concentration, balance and firm minerality.
There is no shortage of young talent tackling whites on the Côte de Beaune including Vincent Dancer in Chassagne-Montrachet. Rémi Jobard and Vincent Boyer-Martenot, both in Meursault, are producing attractive modern, accessible wines. Boyer-Martenot trained in Australia and California. And a new generation is making changes at established domaines like Olivier Lamy in St-Aubin
There is also young talent abroad in Chablis. Thirty-year-old Sébastien at Domaine Christophe et Fils and Stéphane Moreau at Moreau-Nordet are making classic, pure terroir wine. Keep an eye on the younger generation including Samuel Billaud-Simon and Fabien Moreau.
THE BEST OF 2004
Domaine Carillon, Bienvenues Bâtard-Montrachet
Flair, power and extract with depth and complexity. It is compact and layered with excellent balance, focus and persistence. From 2011/12. UK agent: CTW
Domaine de Comtes Lafon, Meursault Les Genevrières
The first impression is delicate, opening into a complex palate. It’s intense, elegant and silky, soft but well focused. It’s a touch exotic, but also quite contained. The fruit is mandarin and a little spicy. Charming wine, delicious with great flair. From 2009. FMV, J&B
Domaine Guy Roulot, Cuvée De Mon Plaisir, Meursault Tessons
A wonderful balance of richness and extract with firm acidity. Great clarity of fruit, translucent to the terroir. Honeysuckle and ripe peach with a smooth stony character. Excellent equilibrium, complete and harmonious with a long mineral finish. From 2009/10. Arm, DDi
Domaine Leflaive, Chevalier-Montrachet
Elegance and grace coupled with a pure, direct and mineral style. Compact, focused and tremendously long. From 2012. Arm, C&B, RdW
Domaine Paul Pernot, Bienvenues Bâtard-Montrachet
Severe, savoury and stony. This is focused and austere with a prolonged chalky finish. From 2009. Arm, B&T
Domaine René and Vincent Dauvissat, Chablis Les Preuses
Flowery, apple blossom and white flowers. Silky, powdery, pure and poised with a classic profile, It manages to be both subtle and intense. Persistent flinty follow through. From 2012. DDi, J&B
Domaine D’Auvenay, Puligny-Montrachet Folatières
This is a touch finer and silkier, more streamlined and floral than the marginally richer texture of D’Auvenay’s En La Richarde. It’s a sophisticated wine with high minerality and tight linear focus. From 2009/10. F&R
Domaine Darviot Perrin, Chassagne-Montrachet Blanchots Dessus
Distinguished with grip, power and vivacity. Straight, intense, but with middle-palate richness and a chalky finish. From 2010. Arm, May
Domaine Etienne Sauzet, Puligny-Montrachet Les Truffières
Chiselled, focused and pure with an austere, firm mineral core. Ripe fruit balances the structure. Clean line followed by an impressive persistence. From 2008/9. Arm, CCC, DDi
Domaine Guy Roulot, Meursault Luchets
White flowers on the nose and a fine line to the palate. This is nervy, mineral and chalky, with delicate fruit and an elegant streamlined profile. From 2007/8. Arm, DDi
Domaine Henri Germain, Meursault, Perrières
Upright wine, slightly haughty. The palate is penetrating and forceful with a firm steely backbone and plenty of breadth. Power, intensity and complexity with a long mineral finish. Profound. From 2010. L&S
Domaine Javillier, Meursault, Tillets
A high-toned aroma that sings with bright citrus fruit. The light racy palate has plenty of intensity and a long, narrow, tight and chalky profile. It’s very mineral and somewhat unforgiving at the moment. From 2008/9. FMV, HBa
Domaine Jean Pillot et Fils, Chassagne-Montrachet Les Vergers Clos Saint-Marc
Savoury and reserved palate with good extract. Strong, straight and well defined with firm, minerality. From 2009/10. C&C, CTW, EnW
Domaine Latour-Giraud, Meursault Les Charmes
Taut and focused with unsprung concentration, but coupled with a generous plumpness in the middle and attractive notes of white flowers and grilled hazelnuts. Complete with excellent harmony and persistence. From 2008/9. Bib, FWW
Domaine Leflaive, Puligny-Montrachet, Pucelles
Finely textured and fluid with a piercing steely core and taut acidity. It’s graceful and poised, in a more feminine style with a long, fine and pure finish. The vintage seems to suit this style. From 2010. Arm, C&B, RdW
Domaine Matrot, Puligny-Montrachet Les Combettes
A complex, dignified wine. A severe and straight structure with distinct power and mineral persistence. Dense layering in the middle palate. From 2010. C&B
Domaine Michel Bouzereau, Meursault Blagny
A lean and direct character. The high marginal site produces a slightly herbaceous, very tight and nervous wine with marked acidity and minerality. From 2008/10. CTW, FMV
Domaine Michel Morey-Coffinet, Chassagne-Montrachet, Bâtard-Montrachet
Full, deep with generous extract. It’s a grounded, muscular wine with good typicity. The middle palate is opulent, thick textured with an earthy minerality and good presence. From 2010/11. RdW
Domaine René Lamy Pillot, Le Montrachet
Sleekly muscled, finely layered and textured with the domaine’s typical racy backbone and tight core. Not the most powerful, but rated for elegance, refinement and verve. From 2012. F&R
Domaine Bernard Morey, Chassagne Montrachet Les Boudines
Nervosity and vivacity with vibrant acidity, an edge of minerality and a long linear palate. From 2008. ABy
Domaine Billaud-Simon, Chablis
Classic village Chablis, pure, bright citrus and deliciously fresh. Elegant and piercing acidity, taut, energetic, crisp and mineral. From 2006. BBR, F&R, Gns, HBa, WSo
Domaine D’Auvenay, Auxey-Duresses (Macabrée)
Rich fruit, a well-rounded body, quite broad across the palate with decent depth, some savoury biscuit notes, a firm backbone of acidity and a decent finish. From 2007. F&R
Domaine Hubert Lamy, St-Aubin Murgers Des Dents De Chien
It has a high, fine-lined structure which carries to a good chalky finish. It’s rather stylish. From 2008. HBa
Domaine Jean Pillot et Fils, Saint-Romain
High, chalky and floral with good intensity for village wine. Fresh, appley and pure palate with a tight linear structure, some grip and plenty of energy. From mid 2006. C&C, CTW, EnW
Domaine Jobard-Morey, Bourgogne
This wine seriously over-delivers for its humble status. Fresh, upright and slightly golden with well defined minerality and lovely intensity. The structure is streamlined and steely. From 2006. GWW
Domaine Latour-Giraud, Meursault, Les Narvaux
Tight and mineral wine with a vervy aroma of citrus and honeysuckle. It has gravelly minerality and firm grip, linear, yet deep with good extract and a touch of Les Perrières about it. From 2008. Bib, FWW
Domaine Michel Morey-Coffinet, Chassagne-Montrachet La Romanée
Graceful with a fine, delicate structure, silky, racy with a very high-toned backbone of minerality. The finish is well sustained and elegant. From 2008. RdW
Domaine Pierre Morey, Meursault
Rich and dense with a broad, notably austere and well defined palate, and good persistence for straight Meursault. From 2007. F&R
Domaine Remi Jobard, Meursault Porusots
Rich and weighty with glossy fruit, a firm, plump middle palate and a suggestion of minerality. It has a lovely mouthfeel with a velvety thick texture and a fruity finish. From 2007. L&S
Domaine René Lamy Pillot, Chassagne-Montrachet, La Grande Montagne
Vivacious and perfumed with surprisingly exotic fruit and a pure, racy structure. From 2008. ABy
For full list of UK agents and stockists, see p107.