Tasting shows Burgundy quality varies

Some people will know the experience of kissing frogs before they find a prince or princess. Apologies for the possible sexism of this statement, but the same concept applies when tasting burgundy.

Sometimes we have to accept we will taste some ordinary wine before we encounter something wondrous. A recent tasting of more than 40 burgundies proved this point.

Only about a quarter of the wines were good or truly great. This column discusses three of the best wines encountered.

The region of Chablis is part of Burgundy in France though it is 100 kilometres north of the famous Cote d’Or around the city of Beaune. Because of its location the climate of Chablis is more like the Champagne region.

Chablis produces unique wines. Chardonnay is the only white grape grown in Burgundy, yet the wines of Chablis are very different from the rich offerings of Meursault and Puligy-Montrachet to the south.

Many people may not be aware that chablis is made from chardonnay grapes. Eminent wine columnist colleague Annabel Jackson has written that in Chablis the chardonnay grape “is allowed to sing, unadorned with the conceits of winemaker intervention”.

The 4,000 hectares of vineyards in Chablis produce wines that reflect the region’s terroir, sometimes translated as the expression of the soil. That terroir is based around the Kimmeridgian soil – made of limestone, clay and fossilised oyster shells – that gives good chablis a slightly salty, steely and mineral quality. It is sometimes described as “tasting of gunflint”.

Domaine Laroche has been making wines in Chablis since 1850. Its flagship wine is the grand cru Reserve de l’Obedience. Only 100 of the 4,000 hectares of vines in Chablis are grand cru.

The 2006 Laroche grand cru is a marvellous wine. It has an aroma of smokey wood, almost like the smell of pencil shavings, and it tastes of ripe red apple, peach and pineapple, combined with the minerality that tastes and smells like hot stones immediately after rain.

The wine has steely acidity along with the mineral quality and it should be drunk with seafood with similar mineral qualities such as oysters and crabs.

In Taiwan Domaine Laroche wines are distributed by Creation Wines and in Indonesia Bogacitra is the distributor.

The weather in Burgundy is unpredictable and each vintage produces vastly different wines. While 2006 was a good vintage, 2005 was excellent and 2007 was what winemakers would call a “challenging” year.

The 2005 Jean Bouchard Close de Vougeot grand cru is a thoroughbred red that has aromas of Chinese tea, spices and ripe cocktail cherries. The tannins are soft and it combines fresh acidity with flavours of redcurrants. Its structure is formidable and it has a lingering aftertaste of smokey liquorice that suggests a wine of power yet elegance.

The 2007 Domaine Bruno Clair Chambertin Clos de Beze grand cru feels rich, even opulent, despite 2007 being a difficult vintage year. The wine offers a slightly vegetal aroma at first, a bit like the smell of fresh farmyard hay, and tastes of spices like cinnamon combined with black cherries. The tannins are soft and round, surprising given the wine spent 19 months in oak.

A characteristic of grand cru burgundy is the restrained power it suggests in the mouth. Both the reds exhibit that sense of reserved opulence.

The Bruno Clair might be difficult to find, given it is made in small quantities because the wine comes from less than one hectare of grapes. Both are from the Cote de Nuits, the part of Burgundy with the highest concentration of grand cru vineyards. Only 2 per cent of Burgundy has received the grand cru appellation.

Published in China Post and the Jakarta Globe, 20 September 2012, page 10. Find a link here.

Categories: Not home, wine

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