“Prenatal Bourgogne” 2016: reds seem better than whites

By Panos Kakaviatos for Wine-Chronicles.Com

23 November 2016

Now the that the Hospices de Beaune auction is behind us (you can read my report on that here) – with a very good result overall for important charities – we can talk about some very, very early assessments of the quality of the vintage.

Having visited the domain back in late September, and now having tasted many of the 45 cuvées red and white from barrel, on location at the Hospices de Beaune (with some reassuring comments and opinions from fellow wine loving writers Amanda Regan and Michael Apstein), I suppose it could be safe to say that the reds from this vintage will turn out better overall than the whites.

And you know what? I’ll leave it at that …

Indeed, for some people, tasting 2016 at such an absurdly early stage is “simply useless”. That’s how one prominent wine author put it over lunch in Burgundy, but then again, that person recently wrote an article on … the quality of the wines. LOL! 

What to look for? 

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Not way to cut to the chase, or cut through the cloudy aspects

Sure, most all wines have not yet undergone their malolactic fermentation, the whites especially were quite cloudy, out of balance and basically very difficult to assess. But for the past several years, I have enjoyed trying to assess the prenatal wines of the domaine of Hospices de Beaune, one day before they go under the hammer at the celebrated Hospices de Beaune wine auction.

Once again, wine writers Amanda Regan and Michael Apstein joined me to trade notes and impressions, focusing mainly on structure, texture and length, while taking into account the aforementioned limited conditions. Indeed, it is quite fascinating to taste reds that have not yet undergone malolactic fermentation. What if the wines already seem rather round and soft? Would the ensuing lactic acid make the wines perhaps … too round and soft?

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Tasting prenatal 2016s from barrel at the Hospices de Beaune with Michael Apstein and Amanda Regan

Interestingly, I did not get that impression from the often rather structured 2016s tasted, that had still the malolactic to go. All in all, quite promising for the reds.

Wine director Ludivine Griveau explained before the tasting that of the 32 red cuvées, only two had undergone full malolactic fermentation (the Beaune 1er Cru Maurice Drouhin and the Volnay Santenots 1er Cru Jehan de Massol). Nearly all of the 13 whites were very cloudy and conveyed a disjointed aspect overall. I recall my visit to the domain when grapes were coming in to the vat room, and how the reds seemed overall better looking than the whites. A few points that Ludivine raised: no whole cluster fermentation, no stirring of the lees this year, and no need to add corrective acidity for either the whites or the reds. Nevertheless, I wonder if they would have ended up doing better, had they acidified for some of the whites …

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Ready? Set? Taste?

TASTING NOTES (If bold, I liked in particular; red and bold, even more; if underlined too, (potential) wine nirvana)

A darn good Monthelie – and a promising start to the Beaunes

  • 2016 Hospices de Beaune Monthélie 1er Cru Les Duresses Cuvée Lebelin Jomain Freres – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Monthélie 1er Cru
    This is textbook 2015 in a good way. As fellow taster Michael Apstein remarked, this is a textbook wine from the vintage: rich, dense and sweet and easy to taste! Reminded us of 2009 when tasted from barrel. 90-92+
  • 2016 Hospices de Beaune Beaune 1er Cru Cuvée Maurice Drouhin Joseph Drouhin – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Beaune 1er Cru
    Interesting to taste from barrel, just one day before the sale as this wine is still undergoing malolactic fermentation. OK, even if it just had gone through the malolactic, I still get some malic acidity, and I like the structure and intensity of the fruit. It is quite impressive with a depth that should be evident upon release. 89-92
  • 2016 Hospices de Beaune Beaune 1er Cru Cuvée Hugues et Louis Bétault Maison Louis Jadot – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Beaune 1er Cru
    The nose is rather closed, but the palate shows much dry extract and a tannic edge about it. Quite promising. Nothing heavy or flabby about this. Can you say structure? 90-92
  • 2016 Hospices de Beaune Beaune 1er Cru Cuvée Cyrot-Chaudron – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Beaune 1er Cru
    Seems to match a bit of baby austerity with depth and fruit as well as tannin. I like how this seems to be at this stage. The aromatics are darker fruit, cherry, and plum with a touch of spice. And, yes, there seems to be fine balancing acidity. Director Ludivine Griveau said that there was no need for acidification. 89-91
  • 2016 Hospices de Beaune Beaune 1er Cru Grèves Cuvée Pierre Floquet – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Beaune 1er Cru
    High toned red fruit nose. Then rather spicy. The palate shows verve and brightness. Indeed, I was half expecting more dark fruit and decadence. Quite promising. Probably the malic acid… 89-92
  • 2016 Hospices de Beaune Beaune 1er Cru Cuvée Clos des Avaux – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Beaune 1er Cru
    Here a first whiff of some dried raisin like fruit. Not extreme, but a touch of that. But the palate has more acidity than the nose seems to suggest, even an certain austerity with somewhat impenetrable (not hard) tannins. The underlying sap is nice! 90-92

More AOC Beaunes, more promising news

  • 2016 Hospices de Beaune Beaune 1er Cru Cuvée Rousseau Deslandes – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Beaune 1er Cru
    Ripe and tasting well structured. Nice! 88-90
  • 2016 Hospices de Beaune Beaune 1er Cru Cuvée Dames Hospitalieres – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Beaune 1er Cru
    Beautiful spice and cornucopia of red and black fruit on the nose and this does not surprise me as it comes from a cuvee that usually does well. The palate has verve and it seems to still have the malic acid but the structure and the sumptuousness is very promising. 92-95
  • 2016 Hospices de Beaune Beaune 1er Cru Cuvée Guigone de Salins – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Beaune 1er Cru
    Has a candied nose, as the French say bon bon anglais. The palate shows fine structure, verve and succulence – with plenty of red fruit so yet again, you do not have the impression of a particularly decadent overripe vintage. Nice job! 91-93+
  • 2016 Hospices de Beaune Beaune 1er Cru Cuvée Nicolas Rolin – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Beaune 1er Cru
    This has more tangy aspects than the preceding wine. Again, counter intuitive to the vintage: red and tangy. Perhaps still some malic acid? 89-92
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Bravo to the staff of the Hospices who worked very hard and provided excellent service for us to taste!

Several Volnays and Pommards: I liked the latter more

  • 2016 Hospices de Beaune Volnay 1er Cru Cuvée Général-Muteau – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Volnay 1er Cru
    This one is a bit stemmy, and somewhat tight overall. I am not getting the Volnay charm but – hey – it is so young, that one should focus on the quality of the tannins, which are fine enough.
  • 2016 Hospices de Beaune Volnay 1er Cru Santenots Cuvée Jéhan de Massol – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Volnay 1er Cru
    Quite sumptuous and powerful at the same time. Impressive. Structured but also opulent. 90-93
  • 2016 Hospices de Beaune Volnay 1er Cru Santenots Cuvée Gauvain Cuvée Gauvin – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Volnay 1er Cru
    This has quite a bit of structure. Not quite as “stemmy” as the Muteau, but also a bit tight and foreboding.
  • 2016 Hospices de Beaune Pommard Cuvée Billardet – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Pommard
    All the Pommards I tried were of excellent promise, starting with this one. Smooth, fresh, still quite fresh from the malic acid still present, but there is an underlying power and seriousness to this wine. 89-92
  • 2016 Hospices de Beaune Pommard Cuvée Dames de la Charité – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Pommard
    Pommard has indeed arrived with this barrel sample. A somewhat impenetrable nose precedes a palate that is mostly structure at this prenatal stage: but what structure. There is depth and underlying richness to this wine, and power. 91-93+
  • 2016 Hospices de Beaune Pommard 1er Cru Les Épenots – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Pommard 1er Cru
    My favorite of the three Pommards I tried from barrel. Just as impenetrable a nose as the Dames, but more multidimensional and deep, with a clearly longer finish. This may turn out amazing. 91-94+
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Hospices de Beaune domain winemaking director Ludivine Griveau addresses the tasters

Grands crus

  • 2016 Hospices de Beaune Corton-Cuvée Charlotte Dumay – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Corton Grand Cru
    Wow this shows its appellation after tasting the Pommards – much more easy going. Now, you have to keep in mind that the malic acids are still here. Smooth enough – and there will be elegance after the softer lactic acids come.
  • 2016 Hospices de Beaune Corton-Cuvée Docteur Peste – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Corton Grand Cru
    Wow, this one goes to 11, after Charlotte. More elegant and deeper. Lovely potential! 90-94
  • 2016 Hospices de Beaune Corton-Clos du Roi Baronne du Bay – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Corton Grand Cru
    Quite powerful, certainly deeper. As fellow taster here, Dr. Michael Apstein agreed, it is denser and riper (but less elegant) than Doctor Peste. If I were a rich man, I would bid for Dr. Peste. 90-92
  • 2016 Hospices de Beaune Echezeaux Jean-Luc Bissey – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Echezeaux Grand Cru
    Very intense and powerful juice. “Masculine” for those who are not offended by so called sexist language. Long and deep. Give it time (of course, lol)
  • 2016 Hospices de Beaune Mazis-Chambertin Cuvée Madeleine Collignon – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Mazis-Chambertin Grand Cru
    OK, the oak dominates on the nose. But the palate? Very deep and nuanced. The aromatics, again, detract, with oak used for aging, at least that is my impression but – my goodness – the palate is gorgeous!
  • 2016 Hospices de Beaune Clos de la Roche – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Clos de la Roche Grand Cru
    With Amanda Regan and Michael Apstein – we all agreed: very refined and elegant tannins. The nose is impenetrable, of course. Density and power too, very fine! 91-95?
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The Hospices by night

The very difficult-to-assess whites…

  • 2016 Hospices de Beaune Meursault Cuvée Loppin – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Meursault
    Tropical and flabby… Not really that great.
  • 2016 Hospices de Beaune Meursault 1er Cru Les Poruzots Cuvée Jéhan Humblot – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Meursault 1er Cru
    Pretty good verve.
  • 2016 Hospices de Beaune Meursault 1er Cru Les Genevrières Cuvée Baudot – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Meursault 1er Cru
    Far too cloudy to … understand at this stage.
  • 2016 Hospices de Beaune Meursault 1er Cru Charmes Cuvée Bahèzre de Lanlay – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Meursault 1er Cru
    One of two favorites from the whites assessed, as this proved far more vibrant and balanced than the preceding Meursaults. Nice job!
  • 2016 Hospices de Beaune Meursault 1er Cru Charmes Cuvée Albert Grivault – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Meursault 1er Cru
    Even better than the de Lanlay, this displayed almost mint like freshness as well as richness. Very promising! 89-92
  • 2016 Hospices de Beaune Corton Blanc – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Corton Grand Cru
    Like some of the other Corton Blancs, including the Roi Soleil, I could not help but notice dry apricot and nut aspects that seemed to reflect an oxidized wine. This was not a good sign… This was also the first ever bottling of a white Docteur Peste. Anyway, note reserved.
  • 2016 Hospices de Beaune Corton-Vergennes Paul Chanson – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Corton Grand Cru
    Here we have a white that is indeed more vibrant than the rest, as it has richness but also verve. Promising! 88-91

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