surly masters of wine…


To make matters worse, an ongoing and increasingly bad-tempered dispute developed between two of my fellow Masters of Wine about a hugely important question for burgundy lovers.
Jancis in the FT

Sounds like one of them needed a kick up the arse…

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

There are 9 responses to “surly masters of wine…”

  1. Mark Gough19th February 2011 at 10:31 pmPermalinkReply

    Hmmm !

    Interesting 🙂

    Wonder who the MW’s were ? Naughty of me, but if I had to hazard a guess maybe the New World style MW might have been Mr Tim Atkin MW ? Think Mr Atkin has ‘form’ on views on Burgundy vintage opinions – did he ‘call’ the 09 wrongly at one point, or maybe 08 ?

    Can’t think who the classicist might have been but annoyingly, racking my tired brain, feel I should know. Will have to ask Jason (Haynes) and see if he will tell me !!


    • billn20th February 2011 at 10:09 amPermalinkReply

      I’m sure no-one important will notice if you find out the truth and post it here Mark ;o)

  2. Claude Kolm20th February 2011 at 12:10 amPermalinkReply

    Wonder why Jancis (incorrectly) thinks Grivot is biodynamic?

  3. Tim Atkin MW20th February 2011 at 11:22 amPermalinkReply

    The “bad-tempered” dispute at the Flint Wines tasting was nothing of the sort. Sarah Marsh MW and I both like and respect one another and are good friends. We just happen to have different views on the 2008 and 2009 red wine vintages.

    The old distinction between Old and New World wines is pretty meaningless, to be honest. 2003 was a hot vintage in Burgundy and I don’t like most of the wines. I find many of the 2008 reds lean and acidic, although some are perfectly drinkable.

    As for saying that I have “form” on 2009 and 2008, this is total drivel. I have always believed that 2009 is the superior vintage and said so from the start. Anyone who cares to can read my reviews and opinions for nothing on my site ( reports). Taste the wines I’ve recommended. They are utterly delicious.

    Tim Atkin MW

    • billn20th February 2011 at 12:36 pmPermalinkReply

      Dear Tim – first and foremost welcome!

      Second, I really have to say that I’m disappointed that you out yourself (and Sarah) before we can build up the hyperbole, innuendo and any measure of urban myth – despite the good start from Jancis 🙂

      The old distinction between Old and New World wines is pretty meaningless, to be honest.

      I would say that this is slowly becoming a more relevant point. The average ripeness of burgundian vintages has really been on the up in this generation versus the last, though 03 is certainly no benchmark as there wasn’t as much phenolic ripeness as most other vintages from the 2000s to go with the often jammy fruit.

      I find many of the 2008 reds lean and acidic, although some are perfectly drinkable.

      Staying with reds, there is little that can be debated here, other than some ‘better’ exploration of the phrase ‘some are perfectly drinkable’. More than 75% of red burgundy is generic and basic communal wine. Overwhelmingly 09 would trounce 08 for this vast bulk of production, where your adjectives (lean and acidic) would often fit and actually some wines are not as good as that! There are still some exceptions at the great addresses where I would plump in preference for the 08s, but we’re talking about a couple of dozen domaines out of thousands that produce. For the remaining 25% this is more fluid.

      ‘some are perfectly drinkable’ is not just damning with faint praise, I think it undersells the quality by a significant margin. At premier cru level it would be touch and go whether I take an 08 over an 09, and grand cru level I am more often in the 08 camp – but, of-course, 09s at the higher level can still improve as they won’t be bottled until March-July.

      A fair question I suppose from my (perhaps Sarah’s too) ‘camp’ would be what did you taste / when / and where? Too open a question(s) for a decent reply I know, but if your experience is mainly garnered from London, or tasting between October 2009 and March 2010 – even in Burgundy – then you do not have an accurate view of the wines, full stop. Oz had the same problem and I roundly criticised him for it, yet he now understands that he was wrong. The EP tastings last January were pretty dire, as most wines had only just (some even not) finished their malos. Some of those wines were not even bottled until September 2010. I know Sarah is often ‘en place’ and revisited the wines often – for anyone to break out of the ‘generalist quotes’ they cannot do it from afar or to any fixed (pre-bottling) time schedule.

      I have no idea about ‘form’, but returning to your overall stance, I see it as generalist and lacking in nuance. But in terms of your general thrust; how good 09 is (and better than for a majority of 08s) and how ‘utterly delicious’ it is – on this level of discussion you are completely correct.

      Hope you keep contributing!
      Cheers, Bill

  4. Tom Blach20th February 2011 at 4:02 pmPermalinkReply

    I wonder who the very sensible restaurateur in question was?

  5. Mark Gough20th February 2011 at 6:21 pmPermalinkReply

    Dear Tim,

    Whilst I’m a mere reader & occasional contributor on Bill’s inestimable site rather than its ‘owner’ may I commence this post by also extending a ‘welcome’ – good to see you here even if you are telling me off (deserved or otherwise) !
    I’ve just had a quick look at your site given the link you mention, thank you for that, and will look forward to reading about the wines you have recommended when I have some more time. You may well make me think I’ve bought all the wrong one’s but I hope not. This assuming I won’t be banned (!) when I might register, noting registration to be required. I’m quite sure they (the wines) were delicious. I can recall seeing you at one January 2011 Burgundy 2009 en primeur tasting at least, if not both, the one’s I attended. In several years of attending such tastings, allowing for the ‘limitations’ of such events, I wholly share the views of many others I’ve spoken to or read about in that I cannot recall ever finding such red Burgundies en primeur so approachable, generally lovely, and so ‘easy’ to taste as the 2009’s. As a mere enthusiastic amateur with a passion for many things Burgundian (I do drink other wines though – New World one’s included !), having worked vendanges in 2006, 2008, 2009 & 2010 then for me 2009 at the time, on the ground, really stood out hugely in terms of the weather, grape / fruit quality, triage table, volume etc etc although I did wonder, as subsequently reported, about potential acidity, and obviously there’s a long way to go from harvested grapes to finished, bottled, wine. To show how generalisms can be dangerous though I was very pleasantly surprised, if not a lot more than that, at the quality of the white 2009’s I tasted in January compared to what had been widely reported – not least the super acidity of many of them. I can recall some wonderful whites even now without reaching for notes.

    To Bill’s recent post on Jancis’ report & what’s upset you I’m intrigued at your version compared to how otherwise reported but ‘won’t go there’ as clearly I’m probably in enough trouble (!) and you were there and a 50% participant so should know ! I really can’t think with hindsight what led me to guess Jancis might be referring to you as one of the individuals and am rather regretting, truth be known, my guess for which I’m not expecting the likes of any prize ! That Sarah M was the other is interesting, thanks for that clarification. I’m a long time subscriber to Sarah’s Burgundy Briefing, have met her on a few occasions, and have the utmost respect for her knowledge and palate. Whilst I’d never, ever, remotely pretend my own palate might be anywhere near up to that of professionals, and I obviously don’t get to taste anything like the number of wines an MW or someone in the trade might do, I have found Sarah’s palate and views more often than not accord with my own.

    2003 I think everyone, or rather many folk, regard as a very atypical vintage for reasons we all know about and I agree with you. I own hardly any 03’s other than where purchase was necessary for ongoing allocation (principally a few whites e.g Lafon) and will be drinking those soon.

    New / Old World :- I’m sorry if I offend by ‘putting you in the New camp’ (sounds like a certain Old World football stadium !) but, and I don’t massage any eqo here or whatever but, of well known MW’s, I believe your knowledge of New World wines is more well known than some given your journalistic repute and activities as reported on your website. I’m not so sure, personal view only, “the old distinction between Old and New World wines is pretty meaningless” at least in terms of wines from the Cote D’Or but will leave that for another time as not a principal aspect of this post.

    “Form” – with hindsight, and nothing wrong with being critical of one’s self I believe, not a great word to use & maybe more thought might have been appropriate but, whilst my ageing memory might not be so ‘sharp’ as your’s (you will have some years on me !) , I do genuinely recall thinking I’d read something somewhere (probably on the net) as to your views (may have been early views) on a recent Burgundy vintage with which issue was being taken , and again if recall correctly, such view might subsequently have changed. If I’m wrong then, guilty as charged, and my unreserved apologies, sorry. Maybe I’d better take 100 lines over a glass or two of Burgundy tonight along the lines “I should not write total drivel” 😉 .

    In terms of vintage comparison then personally I’ve never liked opining one vintage is superior to another – not least as another one might then come along with different attributes or ‘superiority’ !! My cue I’d rather take from my always cautious, thoughtful, Burgundian vigneron friends and just say each vintage is different. Some folk I know of like the 2003 reds but you and I have a different, shared, opinion there ? I can recall a lot of comment ‘on the ground’ during the 2009 vendange about what ultimately might be produced, and afterwards comparisons being made to 1999, 2002 & 2005 (besides earlier 9 ending vintages !), but at the two domaines I know best, and one or two other producers I called on at the time, there was simply very cautious understated comment simply as to what could be seen i.e the grapes, fruit quality lack of triage etc etc. Neither of ‘my domaine’ families would be ‘coerced’ into a superior vintage comment and still won’t – only that it was different. A conservative, agricultural, folk of the soil, type approach I guess. I can still recall making a post on a well known UK Wine Forum on my return from my 2009 vendange as to what I’d seen and got roundly ‘flamed’ for suggesting quality seemed in prospect !! Hey ho.

    I can’t recall reading any views Sarah has on 2008 v 2009 – I’ll have to have a look but, whilst I fully respect your view of 2009, and yes, I’m not stupid (I hope) clearly 2009 is a very high quality vintage, for the Pinots particularly, my experience to date of the 2008’s has been this is a vintage, for my palate / tastes, in both red and white that I really, really rate very highly & have done from Day 1 first tasting. I’m still happily buying red 2008’s when and where I can, and would love to purchase more 2008 & 2007 whites if cash were not finite ! Burgundy is a difficult ‘mistress’. I do though know full well my personal views on the quality of the 2008 Pinots i.e that they are for me way, way better than the general view, is shared by at least 2 London specialist Burgundy merchants I know and count as friends. However, I’m happy that at least the views of others here means I’ve been able to acquire a few top 2008 wines (Dujac, Cathiard, Roty) which might otherwise have passed me by – and as a ‘by product accident’ of my enthusiasm for the 2008’s I will, although was not the intention, have some ‘positions’ on the same wines (late releases) for 2009 – cash permitting ! I do generally love acidity so maybe it’s a personal thing re the 2008’s but I opened a 2008 Bourgogne Roncevie from Arlaud a fortnight ago & it was absolutely singing lovely. Bill and I also have shared huge enthusiasm for Alex Gambal’s 2008 Bourgogne Blanc which is just tremendous for me & I would recommend to you.

    To close, I have huge respect for your MW (not being in the trade or journalism I’ve only got so far as part way through the old syllabus WSET Diploma before having to concede then that making time for the essays etc was beyond me) and vinous know how generally. There was no intention on my part to offend or denigrate and if, as above, dodgy memory applies, or I unwittingly upset you then again I unreservedly apologise and look forward to reading more of your views on matters Burgundian. Maybe I should hope that with time you will find more of the 2008’s not so lean and acidic but, if you do over the year’s, then I guess that will just show we are all different with no right or wrong!

    Happy (that’s) Burgundy drinking.

    Mark G

  6. Claude Kolm22nd February 2011 at 4:46 pmPermalinkReply

    Tim — I find plenty to like in both 2008 and 2009, so I guess that means that I agree with both you and Sarah, and also that I disagree with both of you. 🙂

    Your interesting blog post raises a couple of points with me. You write, “I am convinced that these wines [2009s] also having the stuffing and acidity to age for at least a decade.” I find that to be damnation through faint praise. I can’t think of the last Burgundy vintage, good or bad, where the wines didn’t last well over a decade — maybe 1987 (which produced many wines that were surprisingly pleasurable for their short-lived time). I had originally thought 1994 and 1992 would fall into that category, but have been proved wrong by bottles that have continued to surprise long past my original expiration date.

    But I’m puzzled by your willingness to write off 2008 because you find the wines difficult to drink now (a problem I’ve not had, whether tasting them in Burgundy last fall or here in the States). What about vintages such as 2001 (talking mostly Côte de Nuits here), 1998, and the mother of all Cinderalla vintages, 1993? These vintages generally received much criticism upon release (although not from me) and have since come around to provide plenty of fine and even great bottles.

    • billn22nd February 2011 at 5:19 pmPermalinkReply

      You speak only the truth Claude. But I see here difficulties for Tim; he predominantly speaks for a wide circulation / multiple wine region audience – anything more than black/white statements are unneccesary. He speaks eloquently to his generalist audience who will not normally be choosing between an 08 or 09 Goulots.

      If there is a fair criticism, with his 09 report he looks to be engaging (aiming to engage…) a more specialist audience with whom his vintage generalisations lack sufficient nuance.

      Hope I’m not damning with faint praise!

  7. Claude Kolm22nd February 2011 at 7:23 pmPermalinkReply

    Bill – If Tim’s aim is at a generalist audience, I think there is no question that 2009 is the “superior” vintage — greater consistency, especially for the less expensive bottles, wines that will drink better young than their 2008 counterparts, and wines that are easier to understand.

  8. Mark Gough2nd May 2011 at 6:12 pmPermalinkReply

    As the naughty boy who started the ‘contentious’ thread here I post this belated addendum with slight nervosite 😉

    In June 2011’s UK ‘Decanter’ magazine (connection :- am a subsciber but why does the ‘named’ month come out at the start of the preceeding month – tres bizarre ?) consultant editor Steven Spurrier gives his take on the 2008 Burgundies Flint Wines tasting which Jancis R originally reported on.

    I won’t quote his comments word for word, and the Decanter site seems to still be on the May edition so can’t post a link, but he calls the tasting superb. He refers to a DRC 2008 tastimg the week before showing what peaks the vintage could attain at sacrifice in yields, qualities he refers to not being totally apparent at the Jan 2010 trade tastings (am a little surprised he doesn’t acknowledge the shortcomings of the January tastings) . He quotes Jason Haynes of Flint commenting that :-
    “In the 15 yrs I’ve been visiting Burgundy, I’ve never seen a vintage evolve quite so dramatically in cask as 2008. Eraly tastings showed there was good fruit under the obvious structure and acidity that just needed to fill out – and this they have done, whilst retaining grip and elegance for the long term. Yes, they require more thought than the 2009’s , but time will be the making of them & then their complexities, nuances, subtleties and depth will be there for all to see.”

    I should say here I know Jason well but, as married into the Domaine Gouges family, he ‘s more than uniquely qualified in my book to comment seriously – other than being a merchant with as strong a view on Burgundy as any other, if not more than most.

    Mr Spurrier adds strong, if not stronger, comment from Jeremy Seysses in similar vein, concluding with his own :- “It was one of the most stunning, informative, and uplifting tastings I’ve ever been to. As many of my preferences (note – these are listed separately – MG) as I can afford wil end up in my cellar.

    Fair to say my simple, humble, take on this is Mr Spurrier seems to be in the Sarah Marsh MW 2008 ‘camp’ rather than that of Tim A MW ?

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