This vintage followed hot on the heels of the (almost) universally praised 1996 and the excellent in parts 1995 vintage. Then followed another excellent in parts vintage in the form of 1998 which was surmounted by the ‘once in a generation’ – or so we were led to believe – 1999 vintage. A scan of most retailers shelves shows that 1997 is as old a vintage as you’re likely to find and probably the space they occupy will soon be needed for the 2001’s. So there could be a few bargains out there, but after 4 years on the shelves you’d better make sure that your chosen retailer had good storage – or else – I am currently seeing day after day of 35°C or more!
So what, then, do we know about the mid point of this series? Before I put this group together I had formed the opinion that :
- 1997 was a very ripe, fruity vintage which could do with a little more structure if your main requirement was long term cellar potential.
- I also considered that a relatively high percentage (10-20%) of wines were a little too low in acidity for my personal taste and were, hence, not a picture of elegance
- Rightly or wrongly, I recently started to suspect that although mainly lush and enjoyable at release, some wines were starting to go into their shells a little and should be quietly left for two or three years to sit out this awkward period.
So what did this group of wines do to confirm or dispel these ‘opinions’?
Tasting & results
Forty wines were drunk as they should be – with friends and food over an 8 week period – so no lines of bottles in a tasting room. 50% of the wines came from my own cellar, the rest coming from a ‘mopping up project’ at various retailers. The individual notes follow this text. So here, based on these bottles, are my own ‘generalisations’:
- Three disappointingly corked bottles
- Very good density of fruit
- Colours show more age than 1996 or 1998
- Some subdued, but no obviously closed-down wines
- 50% of the wines had a cooked fruit profile
- No lack of high quality tannin in the better wines
- Lovely aromatics
- No ‘Côte’ obviously better than the other
- Some problems with unbalanced acidity in 5 or 6 wines
- Most 1er and Grand Cru’s need or will benefit from further cellaring
- Perhaps proportionally better wines lower down the hierarchy
The obvious thing is to see the danger of these generalisations, no weak or insipid wines here, though plenty lacked balance, but generally, I’m pleased to have many of these in my cellar as they were often sumptuous if not cerebral and many will be better yet following a few more years of rest. These wines will not have the staying power of most 1996’s or 1998’s, however, in their own right they brought me some joy. Regarding the cooked fruit profiles of many, this could have as much to do with 4 years on the retailers shelves – most of those wines were not from my own cellar.
It comes down to the luck of the draw, but if there was any consistency to the disappointments it did come down to the acidities – but not low acidity as I expected from previous wines – it was actually due to a lack of balance. This manifested itself as harsh or even spiky acidity. The Clos de la Roche was the most extreme example, which with just an iota of balance would have been my wine of the series – was this down to ill-judged acidification – or just a suspect bottle? I don’t expect that any suffering like this will benefit from longer storage…
A reason the village and regional wines presented so well might be due to the fact that the vineyards seldom reach the same ripeness as those in 1er and Grand Cru sites – 1997 being anyway a very ripe year means that perhaps they retained a little more acidity and avoided some of the problems experienced ‘higher-up’.
Whether Grand Cru or Bourgogne there are beautiful wines to be had, but from this tasting I chose as my pick of the series the Ruchottes-Chambertin from Rousseau; with that perfect acidity and laser-like primary fruit this was a 1997 almost masquerading as a 1996. If I was to include value into my consideration, then the honours would easily have gone to one of the Bourgognes and choosing between the two would be by the toss of a coin – but no nose or finish came close to that of Castagnier’s Clos de la Roche – a big shame!
General Vintage information
This was yet another in a run of low yielding vintages which only ended with the bumper crop of 1999. In September the weather was exceptionally warm producing a harvest of almost perfect fruit if picked early enough. Unfortunately this heat was also to some extent the decisive factor in terms of vintage quality; if left a little too long on the vine there was some over-ripeness leading to low acidities, but worse the fruit often came into the winery too warm. You need to macerate the fruit for ‘some time’ prior to fermentation in order to extract the necessary colour and structure to give the wine a long and fruitful life; today some producers might have a pre-fermentation maceration for longer than 20 days, though 4-8 might be more typical.
Because the nights were almost as warm as the days, often the fruit was too warm, so fermentations started much, much sooner than many producers wished. Compound this with not sufficiently effective cooling and the fermentations were over far too quickly – without extracting sufficient material from the grape skins, pips and the stems where used. If the malolactic fermentations could be delayed, then there would be the opportunity to extract more material, unfortunately these often followed on quickly from the alcoholic fermentations and it was all over far too soon. Therein lies the conundrum of this vintage – in general the raw materials were exceptional, however, the wines that were produced serve to highlight the ability of the producers to overcome the above issue. Not surprisingly where producers were able to pick at the right time and effectively cool their crop they had the opportunity to make exceptional wines, and the others…
The Wines :
No slurping and spitting; these 40 wines were drunk at home with food and friends between March and July 2003:
1997 Hubert de Montille, Bourgogne Rouge
A wine that never ceases to surprise me. Medium cherry red still – it could easily be from 2000. The nose speaks of Volnay; it’s soft and welcoming with smooth and primary red cherry and raspberry. Despite only 12% alcohol the palate is nicely fat with strong cherry fruit and very good acidity. Whilst the tannins are still a little astringent, they’ve lost the harsh note they had two years ago. Medium length, but frankly if this was re-labelled as 1er Cru Volnay under a négociant name (that you never heard of) you probably wouldn’t be disappointed! Forget the Bourgogne label, this is better than many village Volnays from 1999 – can you buy better Bourgogne?
1997 Méo-Camuzet, Bourgogne Rouge
It looks like I should have bought much more Bourgogne in this year. The temperature is 33°C so I chilled this to 10°C and let the bottle gradually warm up as we sat and drank in the garden. Deep ruby colour with no signs of age. The nose is a very forward mix of red berries and cherry, leaving the glass to rest provides a little vanilla. Very smooth palate with good acidity. The fruit is again red with beautifully resolved silky tannin – can this be a bourgogne? Medium-plus length finishing with a trace of vanilla. Excellent.
1997 Bouchard Père et Fils, Hospices de Beaune Pommard Cuvée Dames de Charité
Medium-plus ruby, no fading. The nose is primary red and black cherry, mainly black. Excellent fat black fruity palate with prominent grainy tannins and good acidity. Medium plus length, finishing slightly creamy – an excellent example, I like this a lot – now where can I get some more!
1997 Moillard-Grivot, Pommard
Still a young colour, medium shade. Nose is of high toned raspberry and redcurrants. Good fruit concentration – again redcurrant is dominant. The acidity is a little harsh coupled with grainy tannins – traditional, slightly rustic Pommard. Almost good.
1997 Hubert Lamy, Chassagne-Montrachet Vieilles Vignes La Goujonne
Medium ruby – all the way to the rim. The nose is of cooking cherries and raspberries. Deep fruit on the palate – slightly cooked. Still quite some tannin and good acidity. This wine is very fresh and perhaps a little chunky with a medium finish. Still showing in a very young fashion. Nice wine and worth leaving another 2 or 3 years.
1997 Nicolas Potel, Volnay
Medium, perhaps medium-plus ruby, but no colour development and only a little lighter at the rim. The nose shows nice raspberry but predominantly redcurrant with a little red cherry. Silky, fat palate with tannins that come through late on the finish. The acidity is almost good, helping the length somewhat. A wine I’ve tasted 3 times in the last year and each time it leaves me with the feeling I’ve wasted another bottle due to the excellent base material but very tight presentation. Will probably be very good, and I promise not to open another for at least 2 years . . . . .
1997 Henri Gouges, Nuits-Saint-Georges
Medium-pale ruby, just a little paler at the rim. The nose is dominated by toasty oak- after 25 minutes just a little red fruit starts to come through. Certainly not a blockbuster style, but lovely persistent fruit on the palate and finish with tannins which only show on the finish. Lovely balance to this wine – should age very well. Lovely wine with at least 10 years ahead of it.
1997 Dominique Laurent, Vosne-Romanée
No mention on the label, but the cork has V.V. embossed on the side – so we’ll assume vieille vignes. Medium-plus ruby colour with just a sign of maturity at the lighter rim. The nose has a residue of sweet toasty oak and a slightly funky note. Given some aeration the funk recedes revealing deep plummy fruit. Bursts across the palate with concentrated fruit, but harsh and prickly acidity. Medium-plus length and nice tannins. Another curate’s egg.
1997 Jean Grivot, Vosne-Romanée
A beautiful ruby colour when it catches the sun. Roasted raspberry nose, just a trace of spice too. Neither the concentration nor tannin of Grivot’s 1995 VR Bossières, but this is very smooth with medium concentrated fruit. The palate has very drying tannin – but became more friendly with time. Needs a little more charm, but almost good today, possibly better in 2 or 3 years time.
1997 Louis Jadot, Gevrey-Chambertin
Medium ruby red, no hint of maturity. The nose shows toasty oak and is quite sweet. The palate also shows sweetness, good acidity and very nice depth to the fruit. Still quite marked by the wood though. This wine is much more primary than many and needs at least 3 or 4 years in the cellar despite its village appellation. Very good.
1997 Ghislaine Barthod, Chambolle-Musigny
Medium-plus ruby, the merest shade browner at the rim. The nose is deep with a little oak and sweet high toned fruit. The palate is also sweet and still a little marked by oak. The fruit is slightly cooked and doesn’t have as much concentration as I would like. There’s also fairly rough acidity and a grainy texture to the tannins. I don’t think this bottle is out of condition. Considering that this is a wine I often buy, very disappointing.
1997 Domaine Ponsot, Morey Saint-Denis Cuvée des Grives
Surprisingly light colour, a pale-medium ruby. The nose starts with a big waft of oak, quickly replaced by sweet, stewing red fruits. The palate is still quite oaky, but shows good acidity, some fat and a persistent finish. The tannins are still a little grainy. Despite the colour I rather like this and I’d still be tempted to wait another 2 years for this wine.
1er CRU WINES
1997 Bruno Clair, Marsannay Les Longerois
A medium ruby which seems to shine from the glass. The nose right from the start shows a beautifully deep fruit profile – red and black sweet fruits. Good, though slightly cooked, fruit on the palate – persistent too. The acidity is good with slightly grainy tannins. Great now and no problem to leave in the cellar – a bottle which was drained much too quickly(!)
1997 Marc Morey, Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot
Medium-plus ruby colour. High toned cherry nose with faint blueberry. The nose really evolved, going through a stage where I suspected cork taint (despite an anything but dull palate) but this quickly became first caramel and then coffee. The palate is absolutely not meek and mild, fresh with lovely acidity, furry tannin and still a little oak. Becomes a little sweeter with aeration. A very long too, still with an astringent cherry finish – but then the cork note returns and dominates. A young and very characterful wine – spoiled by taint in this case.
1997 Louis Jadot, Beaune Clos des Ursules
Lovely ‘intermediate’ colour – a deep cherry red centre turning first ruby then brown as you reach the edge of the glass. The nose starts with a surprisingly earthy note, backed by oak – though not the high toast found on many ’97’s from Jadot. The palate shows intense fruit against an oaky base, but is a little rough – you could pick this as Corton – then the reason – CORK! That’s two in a row – what a shame, this also seems excellent.
1997 Louis Jadot, Beaune Les Grèves
Wasn’t able to replace the Clos des Ursules in time – so here’s the stand-in. Not normally quite as good as the ‘Clos’, but let’s see. Deep ruby colour – looks pretty young. The nose starts quite closed, but there’s plenty of high toned cherry fruit in the mouth – excellent acidity too. The tannins are very smooth and drying. The finish is medium-plus length. With time a lightly cooked nose of strawberry, plum and cherry develops and the fruit profile seems to become more red – redcurrant and raspberry. Perfectly balanced to leave as long as you wish. Very good, and a wine to clear from the shelves and hide in your cellar.
1997 Bouchard Père et Fils, Hospices de Beaune Beaune Cuvée Dames Hospitalières
Deep ruby colour with no obvious aging. Lovely rich nose of high toned black cherry underpinned by a trace of oak, develops a little blood-orange and coffee with time. Lovely mouthfeel with silky drying tannins and excellent acidity. There’s good concentration of black cherry which lingers in a very satisfying way. This is a wine that you can drink much faster than you should. Perfectly balanced to age but very satisfying today – very impressive.
1997 Domaine Tollot-Beaut, Savigny-Champ-Chevrey
Champ-Chevrey is a 3.6 acre Monopole of Domaine Tollot-Beaut and is actually a climat of the better known 19.5 acre Aux Forneaux on the eastern limit of Savigny. To make life even more interesting, not all of the Aux Forneaux vineyard is 1er Cru! This particular wine has a reasonably deep ruby hue, though is still showing cherry red at the rim. The nose is quite broad with, still, primary black cherry and even a little blueberry. The palate shows an earthy edge, good acidity and there’s also a pleasing creaminess apparent on the finish. Not profound, but very lovely.
1997 Jean-Marc Pavelot, Savigny-les-Beaune Dominode
Deep ruby colour, but there’s still a hint of cherry at the rim. The nose starts with deep black cherry then gives way to coffee, then gives way again to a pronounced meaty note. Fresh acidity with drying slightly grainy tannins. Good concentration black fruit here but despite this, the wine doesn’t come across as very ‘fat’. Seems very well balanced, perhaps a touch austere even – but no rush to open the next bottle. Should be good, but I’ll wait another couple of years before the next.
1997 Domaine Parent, Pommard Les Argillières
Deep ruby, no fading. The nose is very low toned with an unusual meaty and spicy character overlaid with mushrooms, eventually something like cooked blackberries starts to come through. Dense and smooth with good enough acidity and strong tannins that creep up on you. The fruit is a little cooked, perhaps that’s why you get the impression it’s mainly black, shows above average length too. This is an individual and very impressive wine. Worth leaving another three years-plus.
1997 Domaine Parent, Pommard Epenots
Again a deep ruby with no fading. The nose is very meaty and starts just a little reduced – with time red fruit comes through and griottes too. The palate is fat with very good tannins and good acidity. The finish is medium plus length. Today I’d rather drink the Argillières but long term this Epenots could be the favourite. Very good.
1997 Marquis d’Angerville, Volnay Champans
Deep ruby, no browning. Characteristic high toned Volnay nose of raspberries and some cherry. Deeper notes lower down too. Fresh, indeed harsh palate when first opened – but 15 minutes aeration was enough to smooth the edges. Good acidity and smooth ‘I’m here if you look for me’ tannins. Lovely concentrated fruit coupled with medium-plus length. This is still young – but lovely anyway.
1997 Marquis D’Angerville, Volnay 1er Clos Des Ducs
Medium ruby red, but looks much older than the Champans. Nose starts quietly, then goes deep and sweet. After time a little wood spice develops together with higher ‘flowery’ tones. Well structured with very good acidity and bold but controlled tannin. The fruit has good intensity and shows medium-plus length. Certainly worth saving longer as it should be very good, but this wine is not not as interesting as the 1998 I recently had, and doesn’t come close to the 1999.
1997 Christian Clerget, Chambolle-Musigny Les Charmes
Medium-plus ruby red still with a cherry rim. The nose soars with red fruits – cherry and raspberry and redcurrants hint of cream. A fat, concentrated fruity palate with extra creamy length another wine with apparently hidden tannins – unless you look for them – good acidity too. Excellent, a long life ahead.
1997 J-F Mugnier, Chambolle-Musigny Les Fuées
Not deeply coloured – a ruby core gently fading to brown. High red tones – slightly cooked – against a mild-toast background. Not fat, but splendid fruit which again is a little cooked with currants coming through. There’s lovely length, I really like the depth and persistence of the fruit. The tannins are still quite astringent and are coupled with good acidity. Very, very good wine. Despite the relatively light colour, I’d personally leave this another 3+ years.
1997 Daniel Rion, Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Vignes Rondes
Medium-plus ruby, still with a cherry highlight. The nose starts predominantly with medium toast oak, gradually there’s a lovely pure cherry note that develops. Lovely smooth texture, finishing long and creamy with grainy tannins. Good acidity and very nice fruit. Very tasty and quite elegant, drink now or save 5 years – no problem.
1997 Charles Thomas, Nuits-Saint-Georges Clos de Thorey
Medium depth colour – just starting to become ruby. High toned fruit – shaded to red – with a slightly roast character. Good attack on the palate, nice fruit and grainy tannins though I find the acidity a little harsh. Still needs time to settle down, but there’s very good length. Should be good.
1997 Joseph Drouhin, Gevrey-Chambertin Combottes
Medium ruby colour but just starting to show an amber/brown caste. The nose starts with fresh, primary and slightly roasted fruits and is quite earthy. Given aeration it becomes a little more meaty. The palate has a delightful texture with good acidity and smooth tannins which need looking for. Like the nose there’s a baked element to the fruit. The length is medium-plus – another very pleasing wine that should only get better over the next few years.
1997 Jean Grivot, Vosne-Romanée Aux Brulées
Medium/medium-plus ruby colour but quite a lot of development – looks older than many others here. The nose is of caramel, unusually a trace of spicy cedar and high toned raspberry and black cherry. The palate shows creamy raspberry and redcurrant against nice acidity and very astringent medium tannins – they’re quite smooth though. This is, perhaps, the most obviously young wine of all these tested and definitely should be left for at least 3 or 4 more years. Not a charmer today, but there’s plenty of potential.
GRAND CRU WINES
1997 Antonin Guyon, Corton Bressandes
Medium ruby colour a little browner at the rim. The nose is oaky with a medium-high toast note plus sweet and creamy cooked cherry tart. Smooth palate with tannins that really only show up on the finish – unfortunately there’s something rather bitter about the acidity – which shows up most on the finish. The finish is reasonably long with a creamy tinge. Given 30 minutes-plus in a decanter and the toasty oak is gone from the nose, replaced by a surprisingly earthy character and roasted fruits. The bitterness tones down a little – but only a little. Another wine that’s a bit of a curate’s egg.
1997 Joseph Faiveley, Corton Clos des Cortons Faiveley
Deep ruby colour – still looks very young. Lovely fruity nose of damson and black cherry – some coffee too – a blend of aromas to wallow in. Structured and fat, with big, still grainy tannins and plenty of acidity. Really excellent, creamy concentration. Hardly budged since last tasted 2 years ago – lovely now and has real potential to stay lovely for the next 15 years.
1997 Nicolas Potel, Échézeaux
Very deep ruby colour right to the rim. The nose is a little earthy, supporting black cherries and a savoury, meaty note. The palate is sweet, showing refreshing acidity and medium, drying tannins. The mainly black fruit has lovely concentration – blackberry being dominant and slightly roasted in character – and sustains a very long finish. Perhaps the oak is still making the palate slightly harsh, but frankly this has excellent potential and needs all of 4 or 5 years before it really starts to drink well.
1997 Guy Castagnier, Clos de la Roche
Medium ruby but already looking mature with brick at the rim. This is a wine that both inspires and disappoints; a gorgeous nose and finish but the palate is a little rough. First the nose; ripe and deeply scented with cooked plums trailing off to dried currants. In the mouth the wine is quite smooth with intense fruit and grainy tannins, the problem is the acidity which is badly integrated and sharp or spiky. I’m assuming that this needed acidifying and the result lacks balance. Despite this, the finish is a very good one with the same dried currants from the nose lingering very well. Given the tannins, I’d still look to leave this for another couple of years and hopefully the acidity might be more balanced.
1997 Jean Grivot, Clos de Vougeot
Medium-plus ruby with a brick rim. Slightly subdued nose which is sweet and primary with high toned red berry fruit, perhaps some blueberry too. Excellent red and black cherry fruit extract on the faintly oaky palate. The dry tannins are still evident – though not rough. This is currently a little austere, but a wine with a very sneaky, creamy length. Despite the lovely fruit, this wine is certainly less dense than the previous two, very fine though – I’d say this is nowhere near ready and would suggest waiting another 3-4 years before trying again.
1997 Moillard-Grivot, Romanée Saint-Vivant
For around 60€ Domaine Charles Thomas produce one of the best value RSV’s that you can find. If you compare the price to some domaine’s village wines at ~50€, it’s a bit of an eye-opener. That wine was, until recently, labeled as Domaine Thomas-Moillard. Now this wine from Moillard-Grivot is not the same wine as it is made from purchased grapes for the négociant arm of the Thomas business. The colour is deep ruby, hardly any lighter at the rim. The nose at first soars with floral notes to be replaced by a deep meaty note and unusually even a trace of cedar. The fruit is black and a little roasted in character. The palate is fat, concentrated and silky smooth. The tannins are deep but silky. The length could be a little better – this is RSV after-all – but even though the fruit on the palate is also a little roasted this is super wine. Judged as RSV, this wine certainly lacks the required elegance – judged on price, even at 60€ it is very fine. Personally I’d keep this in the cellar for another 3 or 4 years
1997 JJ Confuron, Romanée Saint-Vivant
Here we find the elegance of Romanée Saint-Vivant. The colour is paler than Moillard’s with a not-quite medium ruby. The nose is a little understated but shows a top-end of red fruits on a creamy, slightly vanilla base – with time a more meaty tone starts to emerge and definitely no roast fruit notes here. The palate is obviously fat with very silky tannins that you need to look for – no fireworks but a definite RSV elegance. I’d say that this is just a little subdued or, perhaps closed, despite the exceptional length. Very, very lovely.
1997 Geantet-Pansiot, Charmes-Chambertin
Deep ruby – no sign of age. Bright blueberry and black cherry nose trailing off with a hint of coffee. The palate has good fat and acidity. Nice black fruit with slightly grainy, medium-density tannins. Very good length too – BUT – there seems no ‘involvement’ with this wine and it seems flat. I suspect the insidious entry of low level taint – you can’t tell that it’s corked and unfortunately there is no back-up bottle for reference. This was drunk following Méo-Camuzet’s Bourgogne – and all four people drinking preferred the Bourgogne despite the obviously better underlying material of this wine. Not cooked – must be tainted – a shame.
1997 Armand Rousseau, Ruchottes-Chambertin
Medium ruby, just a little browner at the rim. The nose has fresh red berries as a top note but if you stop swirling, the glass gradually fills with a vanilla note. The palate is also quite fresh with very good acidity. The wine seems at first to be a little slight despite intense fruit but in the end I put this down to how the primary the fruit was showing – more like a 1996. The tannins are deftly hidden but very velvety. Very, very elegant and very tasty – also just a touch of vanilla on the finish. This excellent wine has gorgeous balance and should have a very long life.
1997 Joseph Drouhin, Griotte-Chambertin
Medium-plus ruby at the core still showing some cherry red. The nose is a little subdued with bright red berries and rose petals. Lovely fat with pure, concentrated redcurrant and cherry. Good acidity and tannins that you need to search for. Some vanilla on the long finish. A lovely bottle which showed in a subdued way – perhaps in it’s shell? Even if not, there’s more than enough material to safely leave this for a few more years.
1997 Jean-Claude Belland, Chambertin
Medium-plus ruby core moving through brown to amber at the rim – this could be 20 years old from the colour. On opening you’re met with a pronounced medium toasty-oak nose which gradually subsides to the background becoming more like plum and coffee. The nose constantly evolved – from the colour I was expecting a cooked fruit profile, but gradually primary red an black cherry is unlocked from the mix – even redcurrants too after a time. The palate has very silky tannins with long acidity. This feels really sumptuous in the mouth and shows perhaps a little more cooked fruit than the nose with a deep plum pie. If there is one area of disappointment it is in the medium plus finish – given the nose and silky palate I’d expected an extra length – but it wasn’t there. Still a lovely wine and this producer’s version is usually cheaper than many a Charmes’.