October 25 Round-Up: White Burgundy Tasting, House of Chanel Gets Grapey for Fall, and Let’s Talk Pouilly

Each week I review two wines with my “Sip It!”-or-“Skip It!” recommendation, a rating of one to five corks, and an overall summary based on the [Hugh] Johnson System (abbreviated HJ). All Vintages and product numbers refer to the LCBO.

**We’re interrupting your regularly appearing format to bring you the mildly informed and completely amateur impressions of a selection of 2011 white Burgundies.**

That’s right, folks – this week it’s all about the noble Chardonnay grape and my thoughts on eight wines representing some of the best (and possibly worst) of the 2011 vintage as sampled during my last Toronto Vintners’ Club outing. Seven of the eight wines tasted are from the Côte de Beaune, and one from the Cote Chalonnaise (Montagny), which, perhaps, for neophytes like me, requires a quick geography lesson.

Burgundy is situated in east-central France in an area that is bounded by the city of Dijon in the north and Mâcon in south. Rich in history, viticulture in the region dates back to the Romans, and was highly influenced by the Benedictine and Cistercian monastical orders of the medieval period. Today, Burgundy has some 30,000 hectares under vine in very narrow land parcels and escarpment areas — as little as two kilometres wide in some places.

For Burgundians, the terroir dictates the profile of the wines; it’s about the complex interrelationship between soil, aspect and climate  that influences the expression of the grapes in any given year. I really love the way Don Kinnan puts it in his seminar on Insider Wines of the Côte d’Or: terroir is more of a promissory note than a guarantee. (Check it out on Grape Radio; it’s in two parts.)

The 2011 Vintage

Reviews across the board are mixed, though bordering on positive. Many wine gurus have remarked about how “delightful,” “charming,” or “easy-to-drink” this vintage is, but overall the erratic weather made the 2011 wines less ripe than in earlier years, and certainly slightly disappointing when compared with the power of 2010s.

A harsh winter lingered until the February thaw. The early summer no doubt made Burgundy’s vignerons uncomfortable, with heat arriving in April and May, and the trappings of fall coming way ahead of schedule in July. An early harvest–only the sixth time in Burgundy’s history–began in August, with producers of ‘named village’ whites starting before month’s end.

This vintage saw the harvesting of grapes that were not quite as ripe as in previous vintages, leading many winemakers to add sugar to grape must after fermentation occurred (chaptalization).

2011 Selected Tasting Notes

Wines sampled:

Domaine Jean-Marc Pillot, Chassagne-Montrachet, Les Baudines, 1er Cru ($112)
Domaine Louis Jadot (Duc de Magenta), Chassagne-Montrachet, Morgeot – Clos de la Chapelle, 1er Cru 
Maison Vincent Girardin, Puligny Montrachet ($54)
Domaine Latour Giraud, Meursault Charmes, 1er Cru ($97)
Domaine Bernard Millot, Meursault Les Petits Charrons ($54)
Maison Champy, Pernand-Vergelesses, En Caradeux, 1er Cru ($50)
Domaine Dublere aux Vergelesses, Savigny Les Beaune, 1er Cru ($59)
Maison Roche de Bellene, Montagny, 1er Cru ($27)

The Côte de Beaune is known as the epicentre of white Burgundy, and, historically, these wines have been revered for their long-term ageability.

In recent years, higher risks of oxidation have made collectors skittish, with producers “[working] feverishly” to address the causes. (I mention this only because one of the wines, the Domaine Louis Jadot, had a slight odor of rotten eggs, and grew cloudy in the glass as it warmed.)

Do I agree with the assessment of “joyful restraint” the Wall Street Journal, Decanter and others have used to characterize the vintage? I’m not really sure. I didn’t find the wines to be extraordinary, but then I suppose there was no promise of that. The selection of wines tasted was pleasant, drinkable and relatively light, with hints of caramel and butterscotch notes–the much-preferred light oaking of French Chardonnays to some of their aggressively oaked California cousins.

For me, one of the standout wines was the Maison Champy, which I enjoyed for its long finish, bright acidity to balance the buttery oakiness and playful minerality. Notes of honey, citrus and even subtle stone fruits made this white Burgundy particularly pleasant, though its water-whiteness around the meniscus suggested that it could benefit from longer-term aging.

Another favourite was the sole Côte Chalonnaise, the Maison Roche de Bellene, with its crisp acidity, medium finish and strong aromas of stewed apricots and summer sunlight (yes, I swear it’s a flavour!). At $27, I thought this was a steal and would be a great seafood or poultry pairing.

Perhaps my tastes don’t run to the expensive, or perhaps my palate isn’t yet developed enough to pick out the Grand or Premier Crus in blind tastings, but one of the wines I liked the least was the Domaine Jean-Marc Pillot, a $112 wine. A youthful wine of pale straw colour with hints of green around the meniscus, I found it flat, with no pronounced minerality, and extremely subtle flavours of caramel and honey-butter. More light-bodied than some of the other wines tasted, I found it lacked the weighty mouth-feel that I liked about some of the others, including the two Meursaults — the Domaine Bernard Millot and Domaine Latour Giraud.

Overall assessment? Unless you like ’em young, skip these for at least another five years.

Dispatches from the world of wine – a roundup of blog and news articles of the week.




Wine world miscellanea – from varieties to regions, and from vine to bottle. 


Pouilly-Fuissé vs. Pouilly-Fumé vs. Fumé Blanc

I had no idea Pouilly-Fuissé was one of those trendy wines, like Blue Nun, that everyone was drinking back in the 1970s until I stumbled on this WSJ article. Seems it was as ubiquitous as bell-bottoms and mini-skirts and backlines. The Chardonnay-based white Burgundy was even featured in a Hall and Oates song — who knew?

I sometimes struggle with the two Pouillys: which one is the Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley, and which is the Chardonnay? Fuissé is the latter, from the Mâconnais region of Burgundy, where, unfortunately, there are no Grand or Premier Cru vineyards to help drive up the value of these wines. Pouilly-Fumé, on the other hand, is one of the Loire Valley’s most revered wines, only rivalled by Sancerre, another Sauvignon Blanc-based wine. The “Pouilly” in this name is short for “Pouilly-sur-Loire,” while the “Fume” is the nickname for the Blanc Fumé grape, the colloquial name for the Sauvignon Blanc variety in the region, and refers more specifically to the gunflint-smoky expression of these grapes.

I decided to tack “Fumé Blanc” onto this discussion — the New Word twist on the Old World Classic. Robert Mondavi is credited with introducing this term for the barrel-aged, dry-style Sauvignon Blancs he produced, inspired by the French Pouilly name-sake.

Curious about the best resources to learn about wine? Here I review books, videos, podcasts and other educational tools in under a minute. 

Since we’re focusing on all things Burgundy this week, it seems apropos to highlight some exceptionally informative podcasts. From Grape Radio, I recommend checking out the primers on Côte Chalonnaise, “Insider Wines of the Côte d’Or,” the latitudinal parallels between Oregon and Burgundy (there are two parts), and the more introductory “walk through the Burgundy region” and wines of Burgundy with Maison Louis Jadot.

Be sure to check out some of the slide decks on the World of Pinot Noir website that correspond with these podcasts.


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