Just very occasionally you can be stopped in your tracks by a wine, be captivated by it and lost for words. Rather than bury these notes further down this report, I place them here at the top where they deserve to be. Drunk at a dinner in Bouchard Père et Fils Château de Beaune in March:
1998 Bouchard P&F, Corton-Charlemagne
From magnum. Medium golden. A nose that eventually gave up a creamy width and some savoury tones but consistently focused on the mineral. The palate was likewise mineral with good acidity and a number of waves of flavour prolonging the finish. Vibrant and tasty and stayed strong in the glass for the 2 hours we were together.
1948 Bouchard P&F, Chevalier-Montrachet
From a merely ‘average’ vintage. Possibly recorked twice but otherwise never moved in almost 60 years. The wonder of an old wine – deep colour, almost orange – it must be oxidised right? The nose is deep and truffle-laden but not a hint of oxidation. The aromas are those of your favourite woollen pullover, a little faint hard cheese and eventually creme brulee. The palate also shows a truffle flavour and an immense length. The texture is soft though there’s just a sharpness to the leading edge of the acidity, but what follows is perfection. For 3 hours this grew and grew in the glass, both aromatically and from a flavour perspective, not even a hint of oxidation. Based on comments from the other tables this was very consistent from bottle to bottle.
Possibly the greatest wine I ever drank – a privilege.
1988 Bouchard P&F, Le Corton
Deeply coloured at the core. Wide and savoury aromatics that give the impression that you are about to meet a tannic beast. Actually the tannin only comes through quite late as you get to the finish – before that it’s silky-smooth. Eventually red berries start to appear on the nose. Black-edged fruit is the main palate component. Long but faintly so. Certainly more youthful than you would expect at 20 years, I would say that it needs about 5 more years in a standard cellar to start to enter its maturity phase.
1928 Bouchard P&F, Beaune Avaux
From a heavy glass bottle that at first glance looks more like a magnum. The label indicates this as a premier cru, though the vintage pre-dates premier cru AOC’s by about seven years – it was labelled after 1935 says my host! Vernal colour, medium at the edge, deep at the core. The nose is hardly older than Le Corton and slowly widens to provide tiny red berry fruit aromas. In the mouth it’s ripe, but not too ripe and very long. Despite the quantity of solid material in the bottles (and some glasses) this vigorous wine still shows a lick of tannin and never faded in the glass over 2 hours. It isn’t magical in terms of complexity – it shows too damn young – rather it’s magical in terms of what it delivers from a a very different world of eighty years ago. Blind you might place this as late 1980’s early 1990’s – that’s clearly magic!
All the following wines were tasted in a 36 hour period in Beaune, starting with a tasting at the Bouchard Père et Fils offices, followed by the exceptional wines above from a Bouchard dinner and then three more wines tasted in Volnay the day after.
Straight to the point – I must say that I’m a little bemused by the Bouchard approach to their wines, specifically the oak regimes they choose. The whites have minimal oak and are beautifully transparent – they are fully recommended – the (my) issue is the reds. For the last vintages the oak content has been raised step-by-step, for the 2005’s this endowed them with very similar aromatic profiles, though from a flavour perspective they were relatively differentiated. The oak used is not the vanilla-laden, buttery texture of some producers, nor the ashy, high-toast approach of others, rather it provides dark medium toast aromas and similar dark, savoury flavours on the palate. In a flight of wines such as the 2006’s that follow, it is ever-present but somehow the norm, but tasted in the context of other producer’s wines (like here and here) it completely dominates the profile. On the positive side, Philippe Prost seems to walk the tightrope very well, as I don’t think it’s possible to have any more oak without obscuring the vineyard – thus-far he’s avoided this – on the negative side unlike creamy, vanilla which is taken up by the wine in a year or two, this darker flavour profile is quite persistent and is a clear matter of taste.
The following wines were tasted in mid-March after 1-2 months in bottle. The reds had 12 months without racking and then only for the assemblage before bottling in so doing, reducing the need for sulfur. Philippe’s comments on the 2006 vintage showed the difficulties they encountered; rain virtually every 3 days, not so high temperature and when the fruit was ripe they still had to wait for the phenolics to catch up. The new cuverie was fully up and running during the harvest, and at it’s peak was accepting 80-100 tonnes of fruit per day from upto 10 different appellations.
Bottled at the end of October. Medium, medium-pale colour. There’s a soft but rather tight nose hiding in the glass. Fresh, with some bite to the tannin and fruit just below the surface. A nice mouth-watering finish. This needs food or a couple of years in the cellar.
2006 Bouchard P&F, Savigny-lès-Beaune
50% is from ‘domaine’ fruit, the rest from long-term contracts. little deeper nose with some aspects of dark oak. A little more fruit concentration and plenty of structure. Another wine that needs cellar time for a softer stance.
A mix of red berries and an additional darker aspect which seems to be from the oak. Ripeness, intensity, lovely acidity and a creaminess to the fruit that covers the slightly grainy tannin. There is some oak flavour but it’s not overdone. Lingers well on the tongue – as usual it’s an easy ‘buy’ recommendation.
[insert: three from the Volnay tasting 36 hours later]
2006 Bouchard P&F, Volnay 1er Les Fremiets Clos de la Rougeot
Medium colour. Wide aromatics with focused red fruit and faint oak. Mouth-filling with lots of well-managed tannin and super acidity. A long creamy finish with plenty of oak flavour.
2006 Bouchard P&F, Volnay 1er Taillepieds
The nose goes a little deeper than the Fremiets with darker shaded fruit.. There are still plenty of tannins, a little astringent but also a little finer. More flavourful and with a little more dimension of higher-toned fruit on the palate.
2006 Bouchard P&F, Volnay 1er Clos des Chênes
Medium colour. The smooth nose hints at coffee. Lovely fruit easily covers the tannin and does a fine job masking the oak. Lovely penetration of the palate by this fruit-driven and super wine.
[end of insert]
A little softer, red fruits and faintly floral. In the mouth too, soft and a little silky with sweet fruit. There’s a little burst of complexity in the mid-palate before you are hit by some astringent tannin. I feel the oak showing more on the grainy texture than the aromas or flavours.
2006 Bouchard P&F, Nuits St.Georges 1er Les Cailles
Medium, medium-plus colour. The nose relatively high-toned with a faintly caramel background. Ripe fruit, super acidity, plenty of controlled tannin and a dark-oak background. Quite pleasurable already this wine.
Medium, medium-plus colour. A deep core of fruit with layers becoming ever darker at the edges. The silkiest mouth-feel of any of these wines and undisguised power at it’s core. Undemonstrative yet impressive.
2006 Bouchard P&F, Chambertin Clos de Bèze
The same supplier for the last 17 years – so Philippe Prost suggests it can virtually be considered ‘domaine’. Wide and complex if not so deep as Le Corton. In the mouth it’s intense and complex with super acidity and plenty of tannin. It’s very long, though a good proportion of that length is oak derived. Always an excellent bottling.
A softer and redder nose. A narrow entry but it bursts across the palate with accessible ripe fruit – structure and complexity follow in the next wave. I think it follows the Bèze much more successfully in 2006 than it did in 2005. Super.
From 4 parcels; Aigrots, Tuvilains, Sizies and Sur Les Grèves. A deeper nose than the bourgogne, more brioche too. A richer and softer texture in the mouth. Plenty of mid-palate interest and a decent length. The acidity is understated though I never felt it to be lacking.
2006 Bouchard P&F, Meursault Les Clous
From a cool parcel the domaine owns just above the premier crus. Light in colour. High toned with not so much going on below. The palate, however, is packed with deep fruit that lingers very well into the finish. Nice wine.
Wide, deep and forward aromas of cream-edged fruit and brioche. Light in the mouth, fresh yet flavour-packed. An additional dimension of flavour in the mid-palate and a good finish. Very lovely.
2006 Bouchard P&F, Chevalier-Montrachet
From 2.5 hectares of vines – BP&F own one third of the appellation, all purchase in the 1800’s. The nose focuses on fruit, higher and mineral tones. Fantastic, mouth-filling, clean, pure and mineral. Long, very long, eventually with a little cream – superb. I delayed as long as possible tasting the Charlemagne as the taste of this lingered for minutes…
Aromatically a little deeper, with fewer high-tones. This is more mineral and with more acidity defining the spine of the wine. This is also superbly long and perhaps with even better focus. It’s driven by minerality rather than the waves of creamy fruit of the Chevalier. Today I would drink the Chevalier, but in 10 years? I’ll duck the question, but I’d love to make the comparison!