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Saints or Sinners? – the 1993 red wines

The 1993 reds seem to be the focal point of much debate, indeed it seems to be an evermore polarised debate. For a number of years I’ve been a little agnostic over this ‘issue’, or even favouring the doubters: My first foray into the cellars of the Côte were in 1996 which neatly coincided with shelves full of 1993′s, wines which were generally very tannic and some with quite unpleasant acidity – frankly most 1992′s and almost all 1991′s and 1990′s were preferable – hence, I collected few 1993′s.

So why would I want to revisit such painful wines?

The occasional 1993 was quite impressive – though that can be said of any vintage – but it was really the fact that in virtually every case over the last 2 years, when presented with a vertical of wines it was the 1993′s that were vying with and often beating the 1990′s for the wine of the series. So I began to collect a few ’93′s…

Onto the debate. The Wine Advocate pretty much went out on a limb at the time by declaring the vintage very poor. Citing the unruly acidity, rain at vintage time and a lack of fruit in many wines Mr Parker’s summary was damning. I say went out on a limb, as the Advocate’s verdict apparently flew in the face of the opinions of many, if not most growers, Clive Coates and the Wine Spectator. Interestingly the differences seemed only to be in the headline emphasis, if anyone cared to read the words, the findings were broadly similar: At the top-end, potentially the best wines for a generation, but at the mid and lower levels; tannin and acidity but no fruit. Based on the Wine Advocate’s methodology for vintage scores – the ‘average’ quality was low, hence, so was the score. Given that people who read the Wine Advocate, or indeed this report are focused on the better growers and the better wines – then at best, the Advocate’s vintage score was an irrelevance. The vintage rating was actually increased by the Wine Advocate in 2003, hence, finally stands (a little) higher than 1992 and 1994.

On and off there has been name calling on both sides of the ‘debate’ – earlier this year another spat followed the ’10 years on’ tasting of Clive Coates in the Côte – as a direct result of the debate, a bigger tasting than normal as, hoping to make a point, the growers brought more bottles than in past tastings.

My opinion? – Whatever the rights and wrongs of the ‘interpretations’ of what people had written, this marked the turning point of Robert Parker’s relationship with the region, later ‘retiring’ from this task to let Mr Rovanni take over the ‘hot seat’ for the Wine Advocate. I personally think that the Wine Advocate never really recovered from this – likely compounded by another contretemps over the 1998′s – and today stands number 2 or 3 in the pecking order of Burgundy ‘critics’. The three being Burghound and Tanzer/Wine Advocate – Clive Coates doesn’t really have the same level of readership.

I think that’s enough introduction, let’s take a look at the vintage and the wines.

What about the vintage?

The growers had to contend with plenty of rain in 1993, not least during the harvest, that said, rain is common to most harvests and typically will only be a factor if the grapes are harvested ‘days’ after the rain – it takes time for the water to go from root to grape.

Following a very wet June and much of July there was a lot of spraying to be done, mildew became rife. Finally though, the sun rose, chasing away mildew and opening a much needed window of ripening. There was almost a full week of rain in the second week of September, but the sun once more returned. Harvesting for many started around 18-20 September, but something akin to a monsoon started on the 22nd, so the end of the harvest almost required boats.

Plenty of sugar was required for the fermentations, typically because the potential alcohols showed only 11%. Instantly apparent though were the very thick grape skins and the high level of tannins they provided, plus the high level of acidity retained in the grapes. Yields were average for the 1992-1994 period, but still appreciably (10%+) higher than 1991, 1995, 1997 & 1998.

Summarising

If you’ve the time or inclination to work your way through the following notes of close to 20 recent wines, you’ll see a consistent theme: darkly coloured wines with excellent aromatics, a super depth of fruit, well behaved tannins and generally fine acidity. Only the Jadot Narbantons invoked memories of ‘battery-acid’ wines – but to it’s credit was still a more than acceptable ‘food-wine’. Frankly these are wines that I wish I hadn’t passed by, but at the time I was lead by my own immature palate – so there’s no publication that I can blame! The wines below – despite a nice mix of Grand Cru’s – are not the very top wines of the vintage, but they are a selection from above-average to very-good producers, and that is really the key to any vintage. No matter how many times you hear the phrase, don’t forget – producer first!

The Wines

I’ve split this into two, first summarising a few 1993′s drunk over the last 6 months of 2003, then looking at a range wines that I’ve drunk between January and March 2004.

Last Year:
Mugneret-Gibourg, Bourgogne Rouge
A wine that’s showing well right now
Méo-Camuzet, Corton Clos Rognets A compelling but balanced bruiser of a wine
Joseph Drouhin, Griotte-Chambertin One of the top 2 wines of a 2000 – 1976 vertical
Laurent Ponsot, Griotte-Chambertin Balanced but dumb and closed – a wasted bottle

This Year:
1993 Maison Leroy, Bourgogne Rouge

Despite the abuse – as I pressed down my Screwpull, there was a plop, then a splash and then there was no cork, the mouldy-topped thing disappeared into the bottle – this showed quite well. The colour is medium-plus ruby red with a rim of amber. The nose is like a subdued raspberry pie, though with a less nice dusty, flour-type note behind. The palate is soft – though still furry tannin can be found – if you search. Ample fruit for the appelation, and good acidity. Not quite as exciting as last years bottle but it’s balanced and drinking well.
1993 Michael Lafarge, Volnay Vendanges Selectionées
We drank this one directly after the ’97 Lafarge 1er Cru Volnay. This is darker in colour, with a nose that is shaded a little more towards black fruit. The palate seems more concentrated than the ’97 1er, with good acidity and grainier, more obvious tannin. Despite the apparent extra concentration, there’s a bit of a gap in the mid-palate compared to the 1er Cru, and this is also not quite so long. Neither the elegance nor the mid palate of the 1er Cru, but then that’s the way it’s supposed to be, also shows in a much younger way. A wine that you should wait a little longer for – enjoyed all the same.
1993 Mugneret-Gibourg, Vosne-Romanée
I don’t know, maybe it was the 4 days of furniture moving, or then again perhaps it was the two weeks of shiraz, malbec and merlot etc., but (to open my 1993-fest) boy did this wine sing. Straight from the cellar (14°C); A lovely medium blood-red colour – just fading a little to the rim. The nose has spicy tertiary notes that surround a centre of currant, coffee, tobacco and high toned fruits. In the mouth there’s perfect harmony – lingering acidity and only just fading drying tannins. The fruit has a compelling raspberry/strawberry complexion. Not very fat, but oh so fresh – really lovely – a village wine that transcends its appelation and the notion of numerical scores. I’d say this is only just entering its drinking window – with at least 10 years ahead to keep enjoying.
1993 Domaine Trapet, Gevrey-Chambertin
The colour has a core of medium-plus ruby red, fading to a watery edge. The nose is very Gevrey with lots of turned earth and eventually a young showing mix of primary red and black cherry. The palate has depth, reasonable fat and pretty much perfect acidity. The tannins are there, but you need to search for them. Good length – helped along by the acidity. Nice wine and still very much a youth.
1993 Domaine Bertagna, Vougeot 1er Clos de la Perrière
Very deep ruby in colour – solid to the rim too. The generous nose has warm red confiture over a base of secondary and slightly dusty aromas. Two hours in a decanter loses much of the secondary aromas leaving a faintly spicy cherry. The palate shows surprising (to me) density and silkiness – this is surely the preserve of a grand cru? Good acidity and fine tannins that are close to being resolved. I’m genuinely surprised by the density of this wine, I expect a Vougeot to be a medium weight red-cherry-fruit-affair. Is it the vintage or the winemaking? There doesn’t seem to be any obvious (over) extraction, and despite the density there is balance – did they miss-label their Clos Vougeot? There’s 10+ years left to enjoy this wine – Chapeau!
1993 Pierre Boillot, Volnay-Santenots 1er
For info, all the Volnay-Santenots wines come from the Meursault side of Volnay ;-)
This wine has a super deep colour, still more cherry red than than ruby – just starting to change. The nose shows sweet high tones and cherry tart of good depth – there’s even a note similar to very ripe tomato! The palate shows almost completely resolved tannis, perfect acidity and a penetrating concentration of fruit. There are no hard edges with this wine – drinks perfectly now, but there’s many a year of enjoyment in store.
1993 Domaine Fourrier, Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Combe aux Moines Vieilles Vignes
Deep ruby colour almost to the rim, though amber tinged. The nose is splendid; faint earth and mocha with primary black fruit floating above, given time the fruit starts take on a more raisined note and become more meaty, smokey notes come through too. Super palate of perfect acidity and furry tannin that shows only if you keep the wine moving around in your mouth. The fruit is also surprisingly primary on the palate too – like baked raspberries and very intense. I really, really enjoyed this wine, and it is frankly some way from showing it’s best – my only other bottle will be left until 2010 – at least!
1993 Michel Gros, Vosne-Romanée 1er Clos des Réas
(From 2000-1985 vertical elsewhere in this issue) Darkest and best of the first 10 wines. The colour shows a deep ruby with a more watery rim. Still showing a trace of oak on the nose with distant black shaded fruit – more closed than the others. Simply super depth to the fruit. The tannins are denser but very well presented. Acidity that’s ‘just right’. The star of the line-up so far. Will be excellent.
1993 Louis Jadot, Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Narbantons
A super colour, medium plus blood-ruby just fading to a watery rim. The nose started a little funky with undergrowth and mushrooms. Given an hour this subsided a little to allow an earthy raspberry note to show. In the mouth the wine is not really a charmer, despite good fruit, the acidity is in the ascendant though the tannins are well mannered. With food there’s much more balance and the wine really starts to become enjoyable – good length too. This is a wine that really needs more time – 3-5 years I’d say – hopefully the fruit will last as long(?)
1993 Adrien Belland, Corton Clos de la Vigne au Saint
In the glass – disappointment – there’s good depth to the ruby red colour, which fades to amber, but also cloudiness. On the nose, chocolate, meat and a faint oxidative note. On the palate there’s good acidity and velvety tannins – still with a little dryness, but leaving a smooth coating on your teeth – always a good sign. Good depth to the sweet fruit with a reasonable chocolaty length. Okay, not a perfect bottle, and if they’re all the same then you should look elsewhere. I did, however, manage to finish the bottle without problem :-)
1993 Frédéric Esmonin, Mazy-Chambertin
Deep ruby colour fading to an amber rim. The nose starts a real joy; coffee and caramel notes intertwine with a little ash and tobacco – all supported by a sweet and piercing morello cherry which slowly becomes the dominant note. The palate is fat and sweet with resolved tannin and a raisined fruit finish that is as persistent as it is tasty. No rush to finish, but perfect drinking today, a super-enjoyable wine – but should a Mazy be a little more sauvage?
1993 Frédéric Esmonin, Ruchottes-Chambertin
Deep ruby colour though there’s more of an amber caste than the Mazy. The nose shows more oak, but this slowly fades to leave chocolate cake, plum and eventually a toasty cherry note. The palate has good fat and sweet, slowly fading fruit. The tannin is fully resolved though the acidity shows just a little tartness at the end. Less rounded than the Mazy, but despite the tart finish, more than pleasant.
1993 Frédéric Esmonin, Griottes-Chambertin
Medium-plus ruby red, only fading a little. The nose starts just a little woody but this quickly fades to give a true griottes nose of focused red fruit. The palate has good fat and perfect acidity. The tannins, though smooth, are more present than in either of the other two cuvées. Despite everything being in place this wine is more one-dimensional than the others – needs more time – perfectly enjoyable for that and very good wine.
1993 Dr Georges Mugneret, Ruchottes-Chambertin
Medium-plus ruby, not much fading. A high toned nose of crushed raspberry and dried cherry together with the faint traces of oak and coffee – just starting to show a meaty note. Really lovely and intense fresh fruit – really nice(!) Lingering acidity and finely grained tannins with just a little creaminess to the finish. Very lovely and still very young – a super wine.
1993 Dr Georges Mugneret, Clos Vougeot
Similar colour. The nose is deeper with a slightly more roast fruit character, but fresh cherry top notes though. Similar intensity to their ‘Ruchottes’, but a little more silky and certainly a longer, more intense finish. Not the complexity of their Ruchottes, but smoother and still plenty of interest. Despite the smooth profile of this wine, I reckon it is younger still than the Ruchottes – a super wine to have in the cellar.

Agree? Disagree? Anything you'd like to add?