The 1997s – 20 years on…

Update 9.11.2022(30.9.2017)billn

It seems that it has been 14 years (!) since I took a look at this vintage. Back then, 20 years sounded about right for good vineyards from an ‘early maturing’ vintage. So let’s do it:

For the last 10 years, or more, the 1997s – one or two producers apart – have been okay, if slightly indistinct wines – particularly from the aromatic perspective. They wines that were tasty and easy to drink when young, though I found that as they aged, many developed the aforementioned aromatic character that was usually a little indistinct/spicy/ashy. The acidities have generally been okay yet those wines opened over the last 10-15 years have often struggled to hold my attention. 20 years is, then, probably more than enough to start drinking these up – or?

With that very thing in mind, I hid away a nice selection of what should be very good wines – for a 20 year test. Wines that have never been cheap, yet versus today’s prices seem bargains – Rousseau’s Chambertin and de Vogüé’s Musigny, respectively, for 150 and 180 Swiss francs was the tariff of the time.

The vintage

The year’s weather certainly wasn’t easy. There was a lot of coulure due to the weather at flowering, which caused the crop to be as much as 50% lower in some places than was harvested in 1996. The early summer was relatively cool and changeable – often wet – but August was so hot that it really stressed the vines causing issues with phenolic ripeness. It became stormy before the harvest, the associated rain helping to bring a better (if not always perfect) maturity, before returning to drier weather again for the harvest. Harvesting was done in warm conditions that saw grapes with quite high maturities/sugars, in some cases but sometimes with imperfect tannins from their thick, crunchy skins. Due to the warmth of the grapes on arrival at the the domaines, temperature control was far from easy – the average domaine is far better equipped to control temperatures today versus 20 years ago – so many fermentations were quick – the malolactic fermentations too. The starting material in many cases was very good, but the control in the cuverie was insufficient to extract the best from the grapes.

The wines began as easy, fruity things, some a little ‘hotter’ than others where temperatures were not controlled. The acidity was modest and the clarity (or precision) was certainly not to the level of the 1996s that came before. From the very start, it was apparent that this was a vintage for drinking earlier than those that surrounded it – i.e the 1995s, 1996s, 1998s and 1999s. But even an earlier drinking vintage in Burgundy, for the better/best red* wines, means that there is no rush to drink in the first 20 years. As such, I squirrelled a few away for just such a ‘testing’ few days.
*Sadly there is little joy to be had in this era from saving the whites – so I didn’t!

The BIVB retain the current harvest info: 1,362,729 hectolitres were harvested, versus the 5-year average (1993-1997) of 1,354,901 hl/ha.

The wines…

Of all these wines, I think it was only the Savigny Dominode, where I might have guessed the vintage. The others showing much more composure and personality than I ever remember from earlier tastings. Time has been kind to these wines, though they are clearly not average wines, and certainly should still be improving at this age.

My top three today are easily: The Rousseau Chambertin, the Bouchard La Romanée and the Potel Echézeaux. Surprisingly, the Rousseau is the most slight wine of all those tasted, yet still today the most delicious. But if I was to pack my cellar with wines to drink in another 10 or 20 years, then I would be choosing the La Romanée and the Echézeaux, and perhaps more from ‘hope’ I might be adding a few Musignys too!

Listed in the order tasted – the bottles opened over 10 days…

1997 Denis Mortet, Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Lavaux St.Jacques
The first wine of this group. I’m part surprised that the nose is of fine and clean fruit with a pretty and saline oak complexity – I’m sure, given other Mortet wines of this era, that it would have been more oak than I really wanted when younger, but today it’s lovely. Wide across the palate with a good easy and surprisingly primary fruit, nice energy: Versus the La Romanée it’s a little simple but it’s simply à point! Very tasty wine, and one that you might expect could last well in the cellar as there is no real complexity here today.

1997 Bouchard Père et Fils, La Romanée
This wine cost me more in Switzerland, in 2000, than all the vintages 2003-2008 that I bought direct from the domaine! It seems to me that Clive Coates had a problem with this wine – from barrel proclaiming a ‘Great 20/20’ wine but every tasting thereafter producing a diminishing score. I was very happy to note that this wine was clearly nearer his first instinct than his later bottles/scores.
Wide aromas, not so much volume or depth but really complex with an engaging freshness. Big in the mouth, full of flavour, really complex, saline – actually über-complex. It’s a young wine, a captivating wine, I can’t explain Coates diminishing scores but I find this a great, fresh and young wine – it could live for many, many years – and slowly a little violets action on the nose too. Simply excellent wine that changes so slowly and impressively in the glass that there is clearly another 20 years of improvement to be had here – two more wait in the cellar! Bravo!

1997 Bouchard Père et Fils, Le Corton
As badly corked as it could possibly be! Very fortunate that it was this wine and not the ‘other‘ Bouchard in this tasting. I have more of these, but not to hand…

1997 Domaine Faiveley, Corton Clos des Cortons Faiveley
Aromas that have a little high-toned meatiness and a depth of bloody, iron – this is a bold nose! Mouth-filling with waves of concentrated flavour, not too much tannin but still plenty enough! There’s a little finishing bitterness too – in a good, attractive, dark-chocolate way. This is relatively young wine, but despite that, and give it anther 20 years and it will never be a charmer. But it’s frank, concentrated wine with lots of flavour dimension which I more-than grudgingly admire!

1997 Jean Grivot, Richebourg
I bought a couple of these and I’m surprised to see that it’s already 10 years since I opened the first – and I didn’t particularly enjoy that last one!
A great cork – it looks like it’s been in the bottle only for a few months! This starts with both modest aromatics and modest starting intensity – it narrows from there! To put that in context, the first glass is really on the level of a Bourgogne Rouge! Aeration is the best friend of this wine, as the nose slowly grows to show more amplitude and a beefy, iron-filings depth of dark bloody redness – you will certainly find more attractively aromatic wines but it’s becoming pretty good. With time this adds a lot of palate width – though still with a big wave of tannin – so I think I’ll wait at least another 6 years before opening my first 1998! There is much more wine here now, and it’s becoming rather tasty – but still less attractive than the Clos des Cortons Faiveley, so whilst it still augers well for the future it’s easily the least attractive, today, of the first 4 (not corked) wines! The last glass is a good silky wine with a fine finishing length – but for the first 20 years of its life, for the asking price, it’s certainly underwhelming!

1997 Comte Georges de Vogüé, Musigny Vieilles-Vignes
Still a deep, and not obviously maturing color. The nose starting rather tight, just modestly red fruited – though none of the indistinct spiciness of my vintage expectations. Slowly the nose adds depth and seemingly volume too in that depth. Hmm, nice texture here, slowly a tannic texture rises closer to the surface, but always fine-grained. The nose is becoming ever-more inviting but back to the palate; slowly mouth-watering flavour is coming through and at the same time growing in intensity. Finer red fruit on the nose now, with a pyrazine-inflected floral note that’s starting to grow. A narrow but long finish. Tasty, concentrated wine without the demerits of the vintage but also surprisingly primary in style – closer to the fruity Mortet Lavaux in style than the open, young complexity of La Romanée. But this is a wine that’s very easy to appreciate and that’s something of a problem – I’m expecting much more from Musigny. At this age it’s lovely wine, but not yet any greatness…

1997 Jean-Marc Pavelot, Savigny-lès-Beaune 1er Dominode
A hint of balsamic and a bloody-red iron-infused fruit – seemingly a common descriptor now in these 97s. A nice freshness and intensity – complex and meltingly sweet flavored. There’s a brown caramel-style accent to the fruit – more plum than cherry. Only a little tannin in the finish and you have to go looking for it. This was very modestly priced back in 2000 and it was worth the time in the cellar. Very good wine.

1997 Armand Rousseau, Chambertin
A really nice and young-looking cork – like that of the Grivot – the full 54mm too.
In the glass this has a very modest intensity of color – it’s a little troubled too – very mildly cloudy, certainly not shiny-bright. The nose has a suggestion of the bloody fruit of others, but it’s much more in the caramel-infused red-fruit register. Bright, fresh, slowly insinuating, if modest intensity, flavour – but what flavour! It’s simply, absolutely, delicious wine – my glass drains so, so quickly. Good, line, good width, and no harsh or jarring moments. Very modest weight and intensity for a Chambertin, but a gorgeous drink all the same. Bravo!
1997 Nicolas Potel, Echézeaux
Another great, young-looking cork.
Deeper color than the Rousseau, a younger color too. Faint spice and a deep and appealing depth of cushioned, dark-red fruit – young and beautiful. Wide, intense, cushioned concentration – just subtly mouth-watering. There is seemingly nothing here that suggests any of the demerits of 1997. This is just a beautiful thing. The only advantage the Rousseau has, is that it’s drinking a little better today, but overall, this is the better wine. The nose opening out with violet flowers – I can’t think of any other 97s that I’d say that about – here is a captivating perfume. Bravo!

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