BBC 2: Meursault and the generation game

My good friends in the BBC (‘bring a bottle club’ and taste them blind) asked me to nominate the theme for the July meeting as it happened to fall on my birthday. They all thought I would chose something Italian (reasonably enough) but I went for my primo amore, Burgundy.  As it happened there were less of us than normal but this tasting was very rewarding, both in the whites and the reds.  Quality – and comparison – is more important than quantity.

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First up was a good glass of refreshing fizz, obviously Crémant de Bourgogne, made in the traditional way from Chardonnay with the second fermentation in the bottle.  Nice toasty nose, attractive lemon fruit, refreshing, moderate body and little staying power, but very drinkable.

We then had a bit of debate about whether to taste my white first or a pair of whites which had been brought for comparison’s sake.  We opted for the singleton and later tasted the pair.  Of course, if it is blind tasting you can’t give any clues.  However, in fact it turned out that all three bottles were from the same Burgundy village!

Meursault has a special reputation of it own. The wines, 100% Chardonnay, are not as mineral as those from the Montrachet vineyard further south or as chiselled and stony as whites from  more northerly Chablis. But they are famous for their dairy qualities – butter and cream. As one taster put it: what you are expecting from Meursault is a bit like spreading butter on toast: ‘you spread the toast and then when the butter has disappeared down the holes, you spread some more!’

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However, tasted blind from the recently opened bottles, none of these three bottles was particularly buttery. We did not taste them in this order, but it seems sensible to discuss them in date order, from youngest to oldest.

Meursault AC, Les Tillets, Patrick Javillier, 2008 – in Burgundy you can add the vineyard name, here ‘Les Tillets’, to the commune name (Meursault) even if the wine is not Premier or Grand Cru.  This wine impressed with some floral elegance, excellent acidity and good apple and lemon fruit. It is very young and could no doubt have developed for some years.  It had been brought to the tasting as part of a pair to contrast with Meursault number three below.

Meursault AC, Le Meix sous le Château, Jean-Phillipe Fichet, 2002 – this was the wine we tasted first and it completely foxed us.  There was no doubt about the quality: this nine year had delicate oak notes, but was chiefly remarkable for its vibrancy and refined palate.  Initially at least there was no hint of the cow shed at all, no butter, little cream.  Tasting it, initially no one thought ‘Meursault’. But then why should every wine conform to its stereotype? After an hour of so in the glass, a vanilla butteriness did show.

Meursault, Premier Cru AC, Sous Blagny, Nicholas Potel, 1992 – in short, a wonderful wine and one which showed the potential of barrel aged Chardonnay to develop in the bottle over two decades.  Not surprisingly, slightly stinky to start with but this then transmuted into old citrus peel.  A remarkably assertive nose – marmalade as noted, layers of aged fruit, full even voluminous in the mouth, still good refreshing acidity, lingering.  Remarkable.

After this highly instructive comparison – which make me think we should nominate a Burgundy commune, a Bordeaux appellation or a specific Italian region for future showings of the BBC – we moved on to the reds. Here another treat lay in store, particularly in the outstandingly interesting first and second reds which we could subtitle ‘infanticide and geriatricide’ (or euthansia!).  One member had opened one bottle of Burgundy only to find it was corked and so had very generously upgraded to a very grand bottle indeed – which would probably have developed for 30 years.  Clos de la Roche Grand Cru, Maison de Bellene 2008, a Grand Cru vineyard in Morey-Saint-Denis, was brimming with potential – a splendid structure, sharp, perfumed, highly drinkable but no doubt would have developed.  Jancis Robinson puts the drinking date as 2012-20, so perhaps we were not that far off.  There are so many big, assertive wines in today’s market that you have to recalibrate your senses when it comes to Burgundy – the normally rather shy and retiring Pinot from this relatively northern latitude can really perform on the very best sites.

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At the far other end of the scale was a venerable old wine.  The first struggle was with the cork. The pictures above are of ‘man struggling with old bottle’ and ‘expert struggling with the same bottle and damaged cork’.  It has to be said that the bottle won with the cork ending up in the precious liquid.  But this is not a group to be deterred by the odd bit of cork in their glass.

IMG_9578The wine when it finally got into the glass was distinctly murky and old.  The aroma was markedly farmyardy, healthy compost heap and old leather – but at its core there was still some strawberry/raspberry fruit.  We floundered madly trying to guess the age. In fact it was Nuits-Saint-Georges, Lalignant Chameroy, imported and bottled by Blackett and Spedding, sold at auction and catalogued as ‘believed to be 1947’!  The neck label, where presumably the vintage had been stated, had long since disappeared.  So I got to celebrate my birthday with a very young Grand Cru and a wine even older than I am.  What a treat!

The final wine of the evening was positively straightforward compared to these last two: Nuits-Saint-Georges AC, Premier Cru, Clos des Porrets, Domaine Henri Gouges, 2001. There was a tiny bit of capsule showing with its bright green colour – and one of our number guessed the producer from it!  (Too much time spent in wine shops me thinks.  And it just shows that you can’t be too careful at blind tastings not to give visual clues.)   This wine was slightly dumb to start with and then showed its steely class – taut on the palate, restrained fruit and nose, despite its ten years it also had some more to go.

This was a brilliant evening.  There were fewer bottles than usual but the comparison between the young, the one-decade-old and the two-decade-old Meursault was remarkable, as were the ‘infant and the grandparent’ in the reds.  As one of our more poetically inclined members put it: in these disparate wines there is ‘definitely a common soul’.  I am already looking forward to next month’s tasting.

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