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A Burgundy Tasting with Jasper Morris MW
at the 3rd Central Otago Pinot Celebration © Sue Courtney
14th March 2003

One of the highlights, the highlight in fact, of the 3rd Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration at the beginning of February was the Burgundy Tasting with Jasper Morris, a Master of Wine, a leading Burgundy expert, a specialist Burgundy importer (he is MD of the British firm Morris & Verdin Ltd) and a Burgundy vineyard owner.

The purpose of the tasting was to explore different Burgundian approaches to winemaking, keeping in with the overall conference theme, which was "The Hand that Makes the Difference".

There were six wines to be tasted, all of 'Village' level and all from the vintage 2000. Three of the wines came from the village of Gevrey Chambertin, from broadly similar sites. The other three were from the villages of Chambolle Musigny, Vosne Romanee and Nuits St George respectively. The wines were purchased in New Zealand from Maison Vauron and my tasting notes together with others' comments follow.

But first let's set the scene with the highlights from my transcript of Jasper's introductory talk. He gave an interesting background to the Burgundy wine growing region with particular emphasis on the vintage and the villages of the wines we were tasting. He also threw in a couple of analogies to the Central Otago region.

Click here to skip to the wine tasting notes.

Imagine, as you read this, Jasper's eloquent upper class English voice.

"We don't know when vineyards were first planted in Burgundy, probably not as early as 2000 years ago, but in a little speech that our local politician made to the Emperor that came through in about year 300, he was complaining that the old vines all had tangled roots and the place was in disarray and they weren't making wines as well as they used to.

So 1700 hundred years on we're still complaining about that kind of thing. It seems to go in cycles. You get a period of really fine winemaking then everyone gets complacent then the dollar signs start lighting up and things don't go so well for a while. I think we are in a particularly good period for the production of Red Burgundy at any rate, at the moment.

Classic Burgundy comes from within the department of the Côte d'Or, which is divided into two halves, the Côte de Nuits and the Côte de Beaune.

All six wines we are tasting today are from the Cote du Nuits. So if you were to fly into the city of Dijon, you would then get into your car and you would zoom almost due south down a road call the Route National No. 74 and you would go through one famous village after another. It is a very narrow strip of vineyards not more than a kilometre wide and the reason it is there, the reason it is special, is because it is on an east / southeast facing escarpment so it is getting the early morning sun (the south to us is north to you) and it doesn't have as much difficulty as the rest of Burgundy in obtaining full ripeness.

Basically speaking limestone soils. I know some of you have been haring around the South Island desperately trying to find a piece of limestone. I know others are happy with the soils you have got in areas where you feel the climate is right. But it a bit glib just to talk about limestone because every village has got quite distinct different rock, top soil, though there are forms of limestone, they are bits of rock that formed in different periods and have quite different characteristics.

Broadly speaking each village does have it own general 'terroir' and if we go down from Gevry-Chambertin, the first of the main villages running from north to south, it is a village where there is quite a lot of clay in the soil and the wines tend to be deeper coloured, firmer, a bit more tannic and capable of lasting a long time.

Next is Morey St Denis, a village which in the old days used to sell its wine either as Gevrey Chambertin on one side or Chambolle Musigny on the other and to some extent its characteristics remain just a cross between the two.

The third village is Chambolle Musigny. By now you may be wondering why all these villages have double barrelled names - it is because of what used to be called Gevrey and Chambolle and Morey and Beaune and Nuits decided to hyphenate the name of their best vineyard. So the Chambertin got added to Gevry to make Gevrey Chambertin.

Chambolle Musigny has got a high content of active lime and very little clay. That tends to make lighter wines but very fragrant and if you look at the wines you will see that this wine is lighter than the others, but of course that may be the hand that makes the difference, it may just not be the soil.

After Chambolle Musigny you have Vouget most of which is in the Grand Cru of Clos de Vouget, then you have Vosne Romanee which for many people is the top village of Cote de Nuits with some great Grand Crus going up as far as Romanee-Conti at the very top. It seems to be the village, which above all, marries power and finesse. Which of that seems to be the next target of Central Otago. I've tasted lots of wines with power, I've tasted some wines with finesse, and once one can consistently marry those two together then you know you are doing the right thing in the right place.

And finally the last of the Cote du Nuits main villages is Nuits St George where there you have a relatively high proportion of clay in the soils, you tend to make somewhat deeper richer wines that are less fine when young but capable of aging well.

A few words about 2000 as a vintage -

It is not a great year in Burgundy but it is a year that the fruit character is showing pretty early on. After 1999, which was a very big crop, nature for once, which is pretty rare, has offered us another very big crop in 2000.

Flowering was consistent, it happened early on so all looked set for a very good vintage. But it rained a little bit too much across the summer and there was a disastrous rainfall, 125mm in a couple of hours on the afternoon of September 12th, which really affected the Cote de Beaune, so red wines in the Cote de Beaune are pretty wishy-washy in the year 2000.

The Cote du Nuits, particularly the further north you got up towards Gevrey Chambertin, the rainfall was less and less, they probably didn't have more than 10 or 15 millimetres fall that afternoon and they have had less rainfall through the year so basically things worked out all right.

They've got this little sort of folk-saying in Burgundy, the wind on Palm Sunday is going to be the wind for the rest of the year. Obviously that is not really going to be the case. But I've monitored it for the last few years and there does seem to be some sort of link with whatever the wind was on Palm Sunday. Of course the wind can change during the day - but it is when you come out of Church in the middle of the day, put the finger up and monitor what is going on.

In 1996 for example it was a north easterly which up in Burgundy it gives very bright sunlight but very cool, coolish temperatures, cold wind and as a result got those high acids in both the white and red wines

In the year 2000 it was a southerly, which is a soft warm wind and I arrived after the harvesting had been going on for about 3 or 4 days. I arrived about 10 in the evening and the temperature was in the mid-20's and very even at that time. So the grapes were coming in warm, fermentation started quickly, there wasn't time for a long cold soak for many people. The wines expressed their fruit very well but probably don't have the depth and structure of a great vintage.

All six wines are at what is called 'Village' level. Up at the top of the escarpment you are at about 400m above sea level, a bit too cold, certainly have too much exposure to wind and there is hardly any topsoil at all so nothing is really growing up there except a bit of scrub.

As you go down the slope, if you go all the way down to the bottom you've got a thick, fertile, loamy clay alluvial soil from the river so it is way too vigorous. You get your foliage going all over the place, big black grapes but pretty ordinary colourless juice inside and those vineyards are all planted in pretty basic generic Burgundy, all growing Bourgogne Rouge or Bourgogne Blanc.

What we are interested in is between the two. So the best vineyards are probably at mid slope. You've got a good aspect, angle to the sun. You've got good drainage - it rains a lot more in Burgundy than it does here in Central Otago so the drainage is correspondingly important. Fairly thin topsoil, just enough for the vine plants to get established but they are going to push down into the rocks below, and the east facing or east south east means it gets the morning sun and it is ideal ripening conditions.

Here in the mid slope individual vineyard names come to the fore, the very greatest of them are designated as Grand Crus or Great Growths, and there are another 580-odd that are designated as Premier Cru or First Growths. As it might be you'd single out your Block 3 or Block 5 or whatever - single vineyard designations that we are beginning to see now in Central Otago, that is really where the Premier Cru comes in. And then as the land begins to flatten out with a gentle slope, the soil is not too deep and rich, and you get the wines that are just named after their villages. "

With that introduction and the wines sitting in front of us, we were ready to taste.

The Tasting

Here are my notes of the wines in the order tasted, followed by Jasper's (JM's) positive and negative critiques and comments from the floor.

Anne Gros Chambolle Musigny 2000 (NZ$92)
My comments: Lighter in colour than all the others, aromatic and fragrant with delicate spice and a hint of anise. Tarry character first up that gives an oiliness to the wine. Not as fruity as we see from Central Otago. Nice underlying cherry, strawberry with a touch of tartness and a lot of spice that is long and persistent. Delicate with good acidity. I like this.
JM's comments: Lighter in colour, lighter in style. Combines the nature of Chambolle Musigny with a stylistic choice. It has elegance and fragrance, red fruits, less extracts than most (negative).
Other comments: Jeff Sinnot: it has freshness and vitality
Rudi Bauer: feminitity, based on reduction, a positive entrance on a dilute wine, it give a clear message that it is the 'hand', managed grubbiness. James Healy enjoyed it more than others in the flight.

Bertrand Ambroise Vosne Romanee 2000 (NZ$85)
My comments: Richer in colour with chocolate, caramel oak and cherry on nose. Lovely fullness to the aroma on this wine. A tarter, coarser wine in the mouth with rose-like nuances and citrus. Spice, caramel, creamy and cherry flavours with interesting savoury characters emerging. A long creamy finish accentuated by vanillin oak and spice. Mouthfilling, long and rich. I like this.
JM's comments: Deep colour, lots of oak, no grubbiness. Too much oak, too much extract. Clean vanillin style of oak. What you see is what you get.

Nicolas Potel Nuits St George 2000 (NZ$69)
My comments: A little closed on the nose, hints of cheery, tarry, oily, vegetal. In the mouth it is tart, tarry, earthy, bretty, grubby, herbal, leathery and vegetal with very frying tannins. I couldn't find anything that resembled fruit to me. There was some richness on the finish, however, with gamey nuances, ripe savouriness and rich tannins. I did not like this wine.
JM's comments: Vegetal on nose; may go gamey in due course.
Dean Shaw. Old style reflecting the dense soil.
Blair Walter: We have a drink now mentality
Others: Lacks fruit, lacks originality
- Is it Brett or is it extraction
- Evidently no stalks are used.
- Dry, herbal, dried black fruits

Denis Bachelet Gevrey Chambertin 2000 (NZ$74)
My comments: Tarry, earthy, funky, some leathery notes, little fruit definition, a hint of Brett and some sour cherry. Very savoury with a long finish. A gamey, earthy style of wine with disjointed tannins at this stage. The best aspect is the finish, which has some finesse, and the lingering flavour. The wine gets better as I muse over it but I don't like the flavour that I get first up in the mouth.
JM' comments: Pure red fruit component, little complexity
Someone else: Not a 'showy' wine.

Christophe Perrot-Minor Gevrey Chambertin 2000 (NZ$79) My comments: A tarry, fragrant wine. In the mouth it is savoury, earthy and tarry, the tannins are more noticeable, ripe but not excessive tannins. A fuller wine with more structure and power than the previous one. Riper cherry notes but still a touch of sourness, or is it earthiness? Lingers with creamy, velvety, chocolatey oak. Some rusticity and a gamey rich finish with the tannins holding it well. I could drink this.
JM' comments: Bright colour, bright fruit, glossy, silky, immediately vivacious, red fruit, tannins behind, ripe.
Others' comments:
- textural qualities
- tannic finish, quite rough.

Claude Dugat Gevrey Chambertin 2000 (NZ$160)
My comments: The deepest and darker in colour of all six wines, this has riper aromas - it seems fuller and more powerful though the aromas are quite closed as to their provenance and it is still to evolve. Cherry and red fruits abound in the palate together with a savoury richness and a touch of forest floor earthiness. Becomes quite floral and musky and the texture is rich, plush and velvety. There's lots of tannins but they are ripe and well-integrated. A sumptuous wine and simply outstanding in this line-up.
JM' comments: Massive extraction. Huge wealth of rich fruit in the middle that really sits well with it.
Others' comments:
- has it right
- sumptuous
- more acidity but plenty of tannin
- acidity pulls the finish through
- physiological ripeness of tannins

This was the most expensive wine due to the secondary market.

I enjoyed this tasting immensely. It was interesting, it was entertaining, it was educational and it was informative. The discussion was great and the variation in styles of these 'Village' wines showed extremely well that it is indeed 'the hand that makes the difference'.

© Sue Courtney. 14 March 2003

Now click here to read the notes on the 3rd Central Otago Celebration NZ Pinot Tasting.


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