Albert Bichot’s white Burgundy

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Thanks to the generosity of Maison Albert Bichot, Beaune, a group of wine students have the chance to taste several flights of white Burgundy. What is special about the range of wine is that the producer is the same and within the two main flights the wines are from the same vintages. So we have removed two factors which can easily throw any blind wine tasting.  The chief viticulturist who supervises the work of the vine growers on the various estates is also the same.

Quality levels

The first question is  can we tell our generic Burgundy from a village level wine or a Premier Cru.  There are no obvious visual clues – they are are all basically medium intensity pale lemon in colour.  Of the five wines, we all pretty much got the simplest correctly. Wine 1, Macon Villages, has medium intensity fruit on the nose with no overt oak with ripe simple fruit and is only middling in terms of its persistence on the palate.  Similarly wine 4 is a lovely if simple example, what you might call ‘Bourgogne Blanc plus’: it is marketed as La Secret de la famille, and the ‘secret’ is that the fruit comes from just outside the delimited area for Meursault.  Perfect fruit-acidity balance, just the hint of oak, lovely early drinking for £12-£14.

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The top wines are more difficult to place other than that they have more about them.  Saint-Romain Premier Cru you could easily over-estimate as the oak is prominent.  You might think it is grander than it is because a lot of expensive oak has been lavished on it or –   more correctly – that the fruit is not quite up the oak.  By contrast Meursault (ie the ‘simple’ village wine) hides its oak well and has fine, resilient acidity. The top wine, Meursault PC Charmes has ripe fruit expression and both intensity and precision. It is too young to show any complexity from bottle age. It just needs time to unfurl.   These wines were all from the small, concentrated, fresh 2012 vintage

Classic wines

If that first task was challenging, far more difficult was placing a flight of 2011s all from Premier Cru and Grand Cru sites.  You might think that Moutonne Grand Cru from northerly Chablis might stand out but in fact it is one of the warmest sites (95% Vaudesir, 5% Preuses).  My note did say ‘lean intensity, very muted nose’ which was a reasonable description.  At the opposite end of the spectrum Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru Les Languettes was ripe and peachy with a citrus undertow. In time it should have breadth and precision, but at this early age, the 2011 is only showing the later.  In the middle ground,  Beaune PC Clos de Mouches was leading with its nutty oak, the fruit coming from young vines; a flashy style which should tone down as the wines mature.  Puligny PC La Garennes has lifted mineral and ripe, just about tropical fruit notes, bordering as it does on Meursault, while Chassagne Vide Bourse has a slight coolness about it with some honeyed, layered notes. These were all remarkable wines of real elegance and length.It is perhaps a bit of a cop out but these wines all need five years to show their whether or not they are typical of their village/cru characteristics.

Age

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Finally, surely we will have more joy trying to detect older wines from younger ones. We were presented with three wines all from the same Premier Cru vineyard. The first showed marked mushroom and citrus rind tertiary notes on the nose but incredible freshness on the palate. The modest age of the wine shows through on umami, even ‘marmite’ yeastiness on the palate. This turned out to be Meursault Charmes 2007, which won a Decanter White Wine of the Year award. Wine two is less developed – still relatively simple but with good follow through (2009). Wine three is the oldest with some ripe, opulent, developed fruit, honey and hint of sweetness. Some picked up a vegetal character from the cool 2004 vintage. With many thanks to Richard Bampfield MW and to Maison Bichot.

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