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Editorial

Some Respite?
2006 & 2007 – Whilst the whites will be easy to buy*, relatively consistent and good+ all-round, these vintages should be great red vintages for the connoisseurs – less bling (I decided that I liked that typo and would keep it) sorry, blind buying. You will have to taste or be told what to avoid as the vintages – particularly 07 will be more heterogeneous. Following instances of ridiculous pricing for the 2005 reds there will have to be some cooling – at least if the producers wish to retain an older buying base. The new money so in evidence for the 2005 campaign may not be available for non ‘vintage of the centuries’ – a useful antidote could be inconsistent quality for a couple of vintages, though I expect it’s more likely to be due to discounting of unsold bottles than proactive price re-positioning.

A side-note to the 2005 campaign
Clearly a whole new audience bought burgundy wines during the 05 campaign – egged on by merchant-traders who introduced ever-more spin to the already ‘hot’ market. It will be very interesting then to see how this new group of buyers who had no qualms paying $1,000 or more per bottle for $150 dollar bottles, react to what’s in those bottles. Why? There is a clear body of wines that are already tightening for their (required) 10+ years of silent dormancy. This is a normal process, but for this vintage the early drinking window for for many wines has been a very small one: typically the early drinking window is 1-3 years from bottling and varies with every vintage – it seems more like 6-12 months for many 05′s. Potentially, a proportion of these wines will return to the market at slightly more favourable prices.

Three Updates
In line with ‘consumer demand’ I have updated the village profile I made of Gevrey-Chambertin with a discussion of the communal-level vineyards and proposing some good producers of bottles. I also updated the domaine profile of the Clos de la Perrière in Fixin – Bénigne Joliet was able to complete fermentation of his 2005 and just recently bottled it, so I now include also the first review of that wine. Finally I’ve updated an older profile of Camille Giroud with a 2006 barrel tasting done at the end of October.

*P.Ox – Premature Oxidation
A recent ‘very tired‘ restaurant bottle of Henri Boillot re-ignited in my mind the p.ox problem with whites – mainly because I bought a few of his 2001 Charlemagne – a personal reference point. I had to make a follow-up test just in case these could also be blighted – what I found was not to my taste – versus some others of the same vintage, the colour was more advanced and it’s former rapier-like quality replaced by a sweet and apparently becoming flabby personality. I’m lucky, I only buy small amounts of any wine so have time to drink up my remaining bottles, but I feel sorry for anyone who might have bought case quantities on my or anyone else’s recommendation. I can and will still buy whites for early consumption – and good ones too – that is anyway my preference, but for 10+ years of cellaring? No, I’ve stopped buying. Until I see sufficient evidence to satisfy my scientific background (but I’ll accept empirical evidence) The market above €50 per bottle is an area I no longer play in. You might rightly ask what is being done by the BIVB and (with their permission) here is a recent communication from them to me:

As we said when we met the first time, premature ageing of white wines is not an unusual phenomenon and many wine-producing areas are affected by this worldwide. Although this issue has emerged only recently in Burgundy, the evidence suggests that it may have affected several vintages previously.

This is by no means a simple phenomenon. The difficulty lies in the sheer number of factors which may be involved. This is why a large number of research teams are working on the subject. Since 2003, the Burgundy Wines Bureau has placed this issue at the top of its priorities, with a significant increase in funds allocated to research and experimentation over the last few years. Studies and experiments are thus being conducted in parallel in many areas including wine producing techniques, corking methods and so on.

As planned, the first acquisitions were completed in 2007.

One aspect of the BIVB’s research has been to investigate the permeability of plugs and measure the quantity of oxygen dissolved in white wines, from preparation to bottling. The initial results were presented to professionals in a technical session. They confirm the major role in these gas exchanges played by the combination of the bottle and the type of plug, and the necessity of complete control of the bottling operation.

From these studies and based on a technique developed by the Avignon INRA, the BIVB has drawn up specifications for controlling the level of dissolved oxygen. The Burgundy Oenology Centre now offers winegrowers and traders the possibility of an audit on the quantity of oxygen dissolved during each operation prior to and during bottling. This first service enables better control of the important stages and makes it possible to obtain bottled wine which contains only a small amount of dissolved oxygen, since these procedures reduce the risks of oxidation. The BIVB is committed to this procedure, having partly funded the purchase of the most efficient equipment on the market and financing 50% of the costs for the 2006 vintage to be audited.

These two stages are vital for the future, but the complexity of the problem means multidisciplinary research is also indispensable. It has therefore been necessary to launch a highly exhaustive research plan to identify the many parameters which play an important part in this issue. This is now under way. The results of the various types of work being carried out will allow for more in-depth studies which will in turn make it possible to close in on the factors which are really responsible.

Burgundy is aware of the work remaining to be done and remains active with respect to this issue.

I plan to have some follow-up discussion ‘in-situ’ next January, and it’s clear to me that they work hard on this, but I’m no BIVB apologist; my position is unchanged in that they seem to be pro-actively avoiding an open debate on this, preferring to work behind the scenes. I’m yet to be convinced that this is the best way forward.

End-note
My best wishes to all readers for the few remaining weeks of the year and to a happy and prosperous 2008
Bill Nanson

13 responses to “Editorial”

  1. jeff

    Bill
    I recently purchased an 01 Dauvissat Foret on square in Beaune which was also oxidised. When I shared this with some of the locals at the hotel, they were not surprised and expected this wine to be bad. Do we wait to long for these wines to evolve?

    Jeff

  2. chambolle

    I am beginning to believe I am living in a parallel universe. By and large, I have not experienced this “premature oxidation” phenomenon I keep hearing about. Of course, there is always the occasional off bottle. There are the producers who like grapes with plenty of “hang time,” lots of batonnage and new wood, and of course their wines do not stay the course quite so well, having been given plenty of oxidizing influences before ever finding their way inside of a bottle and getting a cork popped in over their heads. What I do often find is that white Burgundy wines from my cellar — and it is a cool, subterranean passive cellar in the Pacific Northwest of the US — do often have considerable funkiness upon opening, those that have been bottled up for five to ten years that is. While this appears at first blush to be oxidation, and often has the butterscotch and honey notes I associate with too much oxygen for too long, there is a paradox: with more air, the wines brighten up, regain their balance, and show wonderfully. So what’s going on? Some theories: (1) too many poorly stored bottles out there, many possibly succumb to storage at low humidity, resulting in dry corks, resulting in too much oxidation over time; (2) too many impatient people who pop the cork on an old bottle and judge it before the wine has a chance to soak up some air and awaken; (3) I’m just a lucky so and so.

  3. Michel

    Bill,

    Interesting that they seem to be really downplaying the issue, claiming that other regions are having similar problems. I heard this a lot when in Burgundy, as if they could mitigate the horror of a premoxed $150 bottle of white Burg by saying, “well, eveyone else is also prematurely ageing”.
    Bullshit.
    Pardon my bluntness, but I’ve drunk lots of whites from lots of other regions (even CA, surprise!), and frankly there isn’t even remotely the same percentage of bad bottles as in white Burgs.
    When I called producers on this line, they claimed I hadn’t drunk enough whites from other regions. Again, bullshit. This is a line they’re taking in an attempt to mitigate and downplay the issue.
    As a white Burg lover, it angers me to see winemakers take that attitude.
    Keep up the good work!
    Michel
    PS: Chambolle, you are one lucky so and so.

  4. Robert Grenley

    I have experienced MANY premoxed white burgs. Almost weekly I take a bottle of white burg up to my local Seattle wine store and serve it blind to a group of experienced palates. Based on those experiences I have sold off my 95′s, followed a couple years later by my 96′s (damn, I loved those 96′s before they started turning), followed a year or two later, just recently, by my 99′s. Only my Leflaives and Coche-Durys seem not to have been affected (yet) in these vintages. Carillons, Boillot, Sauzet, Ramonet (in 96 and 99), etc. And lots of blue tinge on the cork ends, for those who support the peroxide-washed cork theory. Now I am worrying about my 2000′s…after some 00 Sauzet premox, off they went too. The 2002 Carillon PM Perrieres yesterday was not oxidized, but the color was surprisingly deep and this was not a wine to turn your back on for more than a year or two…and this from Carillon. (By the way, my Carillon 96′s and 99′s were mostly oxidized.) Now I must admit that I have a VERY low threshold for less-than-fresh, caramel flavors in my white burgs, but these findings were echoed by those with more experienced palates than mine. Also of note, these wines have been bought upon release and stored with temp and humidity control, but what conditions they went through before they reached me in Seattle, WA I do not know. But I am DONE buying any white burgs for aging…until they figure this out, I only buy lower level wines for early consumption (eg: bourgognes). The effort spent searchng them out, the dollars spent, the years sitting on them, and the too-frequent disappointments. It is indeed very sad.

  5. Don Cornwell

    Chambolle:

    It seems to me that there are only two possibilities: (1) you aren’t drinking very many white burgundies; or (2) you don’t have a clue have a different definition what partial or complete oxidation tastes like.

  6. Robert Grenley

    “I can and will still buy whites for early consumption – and good ones too – that is anyway my preference, but for 10+ years of cellaring? No, I’ve stopped buying. Until I see sufficient evidence to satisfy my scientific background (but I’ll accept empirical evidence) The market above €50 per bottle is an area I no longer play in.”

    Bill,
    I agree with your approach completely. If I am to spend the money on grand crus (and upper level premier crus), it is so I can experience what great white burgundy does over 10-plus years of cellaring. If I need to drink the wines in the first few years or risk having to pour the wines down the sink, the premium paid for these wines is just not worth it, at least in my opinion. I guess if money had no meaning then $300 Chevalier that had to be consumed in the first few years would be somewhat more interesting than $50 Puligny premier cru, but it just doesn’t make much sense to me anymore. As mentioned, I have not yet had this problem with the Leflaives, but as their prices have climbed exponentially, I am only buying a smattering. I am wondering what anyone else has experienced with Leflaives, Coche-Dury’s, or whether any other producers seem to be “relatively” spared the blight in your experience.
    Robert

  7. Michael Warner

    Chambolle:

    I had the same experience as you – having drunk a fair few white burgundies from affected years without coming across any duds. Like you I thought it was all exaggerated. Then I bought three cases of St Aubin at auction – 90% of which were stone dead.

    I do think producer has a very important part to play – but it DOES exist !

  8. James

    The bottom line is any Wine costing this much should not be “off” so
    often and be able to age. I love burgundy and have a large collection, but they seem to be unable to shake off thir bad production methods.

  9. Chris Fleming

    Bill:

    Firstly, a general “Well done!” on the Burgundy Report website. It’s a serious, well-thought-out project that shows a high degree of effort, polish and proficiency. Would that many “for profit” wine pub’s had a similar level of professionalism.

    On Premature Oxidation of white Burg’s; unfortunately, I have first-hand experience, but, thankfully, through the efforts of my local retailer, who has agreed to exchange affected bottles, the damage was mitigated, but the whole experience has thrown me off buying any more white Burgundies. What I saw during the resolution of this issue was a very well-known producer in Chassagne-Montrachet be very unresponsive and “play dumb” about the problem.

    Over the past two years, Premature Oxidation is a recurrent thread on Mark Squires BB, part of the Robert Parker website, and many qualified professionals have weighed in on the subject. The official BIVB response has an obviously political aroma, and here this organization should both encourage the producers to get out in front of this issue and take steps to do this itself. If the BIVB did these things, it would help solidify a degree of credibility for itself and for Burgundy wines as a whole.

    (just my two pence…)

    CF

  10. jeff

    I am starting to wonder if I have too many whites. So currently 20% of 1,000 and drinking an average of two per week or 120 a year. I estimate in the last 5 years having 10-15 bad bottles. Not a bad number when you look at the big picture. I drink 90% Chablis, macon and Cote… Most of the bad bottles have been older 5 years or more. I was troubled by the Dauvissat Foret 01. I found chablis to so affordable we started every meal with chablis in the France. So in summary its not so bad…at least not from one vantage point… A final note I have never had a bad bottle from the Macon with 20% of my cellar dedicated to this region…

  11. norm

    love the report and website. just a suggestion but have a pdf of the report would be fantastic. would loveto be able to download/print and read it easily offline. if its there already and I missed it, would appreciate the link.

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