No crystal balls: assessing prenatal 2014 Burgundy
16 November 2014
By Panos Kakaviatos for Wine-Chronicles.com
I always enjoy tasting the pre natal wines of the Hospices de Beaune with Michael Apstein, M.D., who is a frequent contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle, a wine educator for more than 20 years, a freelance contributor to many national magazines, James Beard Award winner for wine writing, former wine columnist for the Boston Globe, and a judge for numerous national and international wine competitions.
For the third year in a row he provided measured and methodical comments on the pre malolactic fermentation Burgs, some with CO2, with others cloudier than a milkshake (OK, that is a bit of exaggeration). Also present was Amanda Regan, who provides no less valuable advice on how to taste these wines. I must say that after five years of tasting at this time period, I am getting a sense of how to evaluate them. No crystal balls, but a sense of where we are going with Burgundy 2014.
As Hospices winemaking director Roland Masse told me in an interview I did with him shortly before the auction this month: “You have to taste more simply. You cannot find complex aromatics and flavors in these baby wines. We cannot make sommelier descriptions at this stage. I think that everyone is able to taste these young wines, but you need to understand the criteria.”
For Masse, tasters should look out for structure and balance, between tannin and acidity. “For reds it is rather simple,” he remarked. “We can discern tannin and acidity, which are two major factors for aging capacity, but it is more difficult to foresee the future for whites, because there is no tannin. But we can assess fruit and balance.”
So what’s the verdict? 2014 looks fairly solid – for both reds and whites. OK, some wines from the Côte de Beaune seemed to have a goût de grêle or “taste of hail” – a just slightly burning sensation. Then again, Bill Blatch from Christie’s remarked that such a taste would be impossible since the hail fell in late June. In any case, a few samples we tried had slightly off aspects but thankfully just a few. A couple of others exuded hard or overly edgy tannins. For example, all tasters at my tasting table – including Michael, Amanda and Chinese wine writer Rebecca XiaoYan Moreau – found no less than three separate samples of the Pernand-Vergelesses disappointingly dry and hard, austere and/or coarse.
But let’s not dwell on the few ball drops, and stress the overall success of the tasting. For the reds – which made up the majority of the wines tasted: “They are beautifully balanced, with plenty of fruit, plenty of concentration and structure – they are not wimpy wines,” remarked Michael Apstein. And yet, although the tannins are present, they are not aggressive, for the most part. “What’s really nice is that Beaune tastes like Beaune and Volnay tastes like Volnay”, Apstein added. Indeed, when we went from Beaune to Volnay, we immediately noticed a softer more velvety style. By the same token, Pommard seemed more structured and solid. And the grand crus did stand out, even if the Mazis Chambertin was somewhat underwhelming and the Echezeaux a bit unexpressive.
As is done normally in Burgundy, reds are tasted before whites. The names of the wines represent lieu dits, and not the negociants who will later age the wines and bottle them once they are sold. Most all the wines had undergone full alcoholic fermentation so little or no residual sugar was left even if – particularly for the whites – we encountered many cloudy aspects and CO2. So sometimes a bit of gas and often notes of reduction. Certainly a noticeable malic acid often was pronounced.
Approximate ratings by stars:
- BEAUNE Dames Hospitalières Bright fruit, energy, pleasing nose. “I like the reduction,” remarked Michael Apstein. Reassuring. Vif. Has bright red fruit ***
- BEAUNE Guigone de Salins. Edgier than the first Beaune tried. A bit more austere. **
- BEAUNE-GREVES Pierre Floquet – juicy palate, even if a touch of “hail aspects” on the nose… Something seemed a touch hard/ice like! **
- BEAUNE Nicolas Rolin: Floral aspects, soft palate, somewhat edgy. There is that malic aspect and acidity is there… ***
- BEAUNE Clos des Avaux: Fuller bodied, more intense, longer. Tannic finish. This was perhaps the most impressive so far. ***
- BEAUNE Brunet: Chewy tannins and fun. ***
- BEAUNE Rousseau-Deslandes. Oaky influence. Reduction. But plenty of substance underneath. ***
- BEAUNE Maurice Drouhin: Bright fruit here. A touch of dryness on the finish? Least appealing, more stem like. **
- BEAUNE Hugues et Louis Betault: Darker fruit. Richness. Acidities are more pronounced in these, from 7 to 9. 8 is a bit unappealing. ***
- BEAUNE Cyrot Chaudron: Hail notes? A bit cabbage like… Not very appealing… “It’s got something that is not appealing, the first one with really drying tannins,” said Michael Apstein. The first clunker. *
- VOLNAY Général Muteau: Velvety and silky. Smooth and sumptuous. Lovely wine. Excellent. ****
- VOLNAY Blondeau: A bit edgier than the Muteau but fine substance. ***
- VOLNAY-SANTENOTS Jéhan de Massol: This has juiciness. Very lacy, so Apstein and I agree. ****
- VOLNAY SANTENOTS Gauvain: Very nice concentration here. More structure than the lacy Massol, which I nonetheless prefer. ***
- MONTHELIE-les-DURESSES Lebelin: A bit short on the finish but starts out fine. Juicy mid palate but somewhat hard tannins. A bit more rustic. “Lamb’s wool compared to cashmere,” Apstein said. **
- SAVIGNY-les-BEAUNE Forneret: The most lift among the Savigny. Fine. ***
- SAVIGNY-les-BEAUNE Arthur Girard: Rich and fun… nothing too amazing. A bit warm and rich. A bit coarse, and a bit flabby. Not particularly interesting. *
- SAVIGNY-les-BEAUNE Fouquerand: Good verve here. Rich and a bit simple but hey, look at the AOC! ***
- POMMARD Billardet: Lots of power… very typically … Pommard! More substantial, already on the nose. ***
- POMMARD Raymond Cyrot: Austere. I’m a tough beast now. Don’t touch but seems to have much going on for aging. ***
- POMMARD Suzanne Chaudron: Juicy and rich noticeably juicier than the preceding Pommards (19 and 20). Amanda Regan liked this one in particular as did I. ****
- POMMARD Dames de la Charité: Intense and savory. Keep in mind a bit of CO2… But this is lovely. A bit short on the finish perhaps, compared to number 23. ***
- POMMARD EPENOTS Dom Goblet: This is also lovely. More suave than 22. Has more length. Lovely! ****
- PERNAND-VERGELESSES R-Lamarosse: Disappointing dry and hard… Two samples tried. A third sample: austere and coarse. The least interesting. *
- CORTON Charlotte Dumay: This has underlying charm and elegance. There is some malic acidity – that one has to put aside when tasting. The nose is also reflective of that… Take that into account but looks like a wonderful Corton in the making. ****
- CORTON CLOS DU ROI Baronne du Baÿ: Like Dumay even juicier if the finish is a touch abrupt. Still, after taking one sip – I wanted more. Is it a touch hot on the finish? Not as fine as Dumay. ***
- CORTON Docteur Peste: Not as charming as Dumay. Other tasters agreed that Dumay was the most charming. I had trouble liking this. **
- SANTENAY Christine Friedberg: This was tasty and fruity and delicious and a fine price/quality ratio ***
- AUXEY-DURESSES Boillot: A bit hard… warm and generous but hard on finish. **
- CLOS DE LA ROCHE Cyrot-Chaudron and 31. CLOS DE LA ROCHE Georges Kritter (a blend!): “Truly Clos de la Roche, with black cherry” Apstein said. Massive yet subtle. The most memorable of all the reds I tried. Superb. *****
- ECHEZEAUX Jean-Luc Bissey: A little underwhelming… a bit dumb… Not giving anything today. Comes after Clos de la Roche so maybe that is the factor? ***
- MAZIS-CHAMBERTIN Madeleine Collignon: Certainly grand cru quality but not as good as Clos de la Roche! Somewhat short too. What gives? ***?
“Citrus and elegance,” remarked Amanda Regan to describe the whites overall. We agreed that although the sample set was smallish, most all the wines proved to be positive tasting experiences – and a few excellent to outstanding.
- POUILLY-FUISSE Françoise Poisard: Inoffensive. Tasty. Nice. ***
- SAINT-ROMAIN Joseph Menault: This has a bit more contour than the Pouilly Fuisse. ***
- BEAUNE 1er cru Les Montrevenots Suzanne et Raymond: A bit heavier on the palate. A bit heavier. And – as some tasters noted – flabby. *
- MEURSAULT Goureau: Rich and savory. ***
- MEURSAULT Loppin: Lots of mache, materiere and almost tannic like. ***
- MEURSAULT-CHARMES de Bahezre de Lanlay: Hard to ascertain… rather good. ***
- MEURSAULT-PORUSOTS Jéhan Humblot: This is lovely… Has excitement. ***
- MEURSAULT-CHARMES Albert Grivault: Has an herbal note that is lovely. Volume, too. This is very aquiline. I like this quite a bit. ****
- MEURSAULT-GENEVRIERES Baudot: Rich and suave. 13.6. Warm finish. ***
- MEURSAULT-GENEVRIERES Philippe le Bon: Not cloudy like the others. Matchstick reduction. But fine underlying Genevrieres spice, as Apstein said. ***
- CORTON VERGENNES Paul Chanson: Lovely, charming. Check the alcohol levels. ***
- CORTON-CHARLEMAGNE Roi Soleil: White tobacco? Lots of substance here, delicious. “Rich, ripe and racy” says Michael. The best of the white Cortons. *****
- CORTON-CHARLEMAGNE François de Salins: Yeasty… Sediment… Hard to taste. Balance is good, acidity is bright and not hollow on mid palate. Substance. Matiere. ****
- BATARD-MONTRACHET Dames de Flandres: Chewy and substantial! Very impressive stuff! Really full of matiere. *****