Random ruminations…

My eighth Spring Report is quite a busy one – it’s amazing what you can pack in if seasonal colds desist!

Firstly I have to thank Filip Verheyden (Belgian Wine Personality of the Year 2010 – apparently!) who is editor and publisher of Tong Magazine, for allowing me to reprint a brilliant article he published last year. I think I’ve read it 5 times now – it’s just one of those articles where I absorb something different each time. Filip has drawn the ire of some producers for taking a completely neutral position and allowing both pro and anti argumentation for ‘terroir’ in the magazine – it seems that free speech is not to be countenanced in some corridors! I’m expecting the latest issue ‘Burgundy’ to be delivered any time soon – I see that the cover uses red ink – perhaps that’s the hell-fire from some producers!!
Note: he didn’t pay me to get his article printed, I am a subscriber, and actually have to buy him beer (presumably Belgian) in payment!

It’s actually the first ever spring report that doesn’t showcase the latest vintage from the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti – I guess you’re anyway bored to know how many thousands per bottle(?) That said, I still managed to sandwich in well-over 300 notes from bottles tested since December. The site is pretty much being updated behind the scenes too in order to accommodate those notes – the new version of the NoteFinder hopefully offers a much more stable environment for specific wine information. Actually I had more even notes, but decided to keep some for the summer issue where they will fit much better…

The New Vintages:

2008: We can finally get a more general picture of what it’s about. The whites are like 2007 with a hint more richness – and that suits me fine as their balance is generally excellent. The reds from good producers are super, showing jewel-like clarity with occasionally astounding precision. Even at good producers though, you can find the odd wine that seems too tart – I don’t have any reason to assume their personality will be other than ‘life-given!’ Outside the cabal of great producers, ‘tart’ could be synonymous with the vintage – but remember, it doesn’t have to be so. The beautiful wines can be found on both Côtes, I do, however, have one complaint but it is only apparent in a larger tasting of the vintage – the relative monotony of the dark red/black fruit – come on guys, what about a bit more red…?

2009: You know, every year I taste the new vintage, and in close to every month too; fermenting, pre-malo, with a small wince during malo and finally with varying degrees of love after malo. With this vintage I’ve never before received so many invites to taste pre-malo – why? There’s certainly little to be gleaned other than colour as the malo is always so ‘life-changing’ – apart from the usual suspects I’ve declined the invites. Why the difference for 2009? Well a significant bunch of producers are resigned to belt-tightening until they can finally sell their 2009s, perhaps they hope an extra dose of vintage hype may help them, though with all that 2007 and 2008 wine still in the pipeline it seems counter-productive to me – but what do I know?

The Market:

ep09What better segue into a market discussion. For your info (right) I have the local en-primeur prices in Switzerland (so in Swiss Francs) for a bunch of the ‘the usual suspects’.

Despite some 2009 hype, the relative price versus the 2005 vintage is not bad. Generally pricing is equivalent or less, though big advantages seem to be available only if you normally by just Richebourg 😉

Contacts in the business tell me that the market was relatively strong in the last months, but specifically in what they might call ‘value’ wines – say €8-15 – higher was very tough indeed. The good news for all concerned is that there are the ‘green shoots’ of interest returning at €50+ per bottle, but apart from highly targeted offers, that it remains more of an interest than action!

Oxidative Wine

Since 2004 the problem of oxidation has been a focus of the BIVB technical department and it’s partner research organisations. I spoke with Jean-Philippe Gervais who has been technical director at the BIVB since 2007 and asked if he could outline the approach that has been taken so far, and what results he could share with us.

What is clear to me from our discussion (and an extended invitation to inspect data) is that the BIVB are happy to engage in open dialogue and share data with people who might appreciate on a technical level its content.

What follows is a summary of our 30 minute conversation, and some stand-out comments/statements from Jean-Philippe. Jean-Philippe is also to be thanked for providing some studies in English which I reproduce at the foot of this text, additional studies are being translated and will be made available when complete.

We have studies which show that ours is not the only region to be experiencing oxidation issues, but we are conscious that we have a wonderful product here in Burgundy and it is very important to us that everyone can appreciate this product in its best condition. As a basic point we should note that Burgundy is a northerly wine producing region that experiences significant vintage differences and this of-course means that individual vintages will have different aging potentials.

The composition of grape juice has changed over the last 20 years; the must is sweeter and our method of pressing has changed too, so we must prepare ourselves for the necessity to make wine in a modified manner. This is not the only issue; of-course the chardonnay is more sensitive to oxidation due to this change in the basic raw materials (grapes/must) but, as you will see, there is also a question of bringing better solutions for bottling and seals.

We have been working on projects with (amongst others) the Agronomy Institute in Montpellier to get to the heart of the role of dissolved oxygen in the wine, studying what is happening at the interfaces of the cork, the bottle and the wine, and we have also been able to measure the effect of oxygen content at different stages of the elevage of the wine.

There are clearly molecules that protect against oxidation, the question for our research is ‘which are they’ and once identified ‘how to preserve them’. We know that depending on how the grapes are pressed, the concentration of certain polyphenols, that may affect or retard this oxidation, change. We have wine-growers who have oxidised wines, and their neighbours who make the same wines have no problems. Some growers use large quantities of SO2 but find it does not protect their wine. Actually we see the ‘best’ results are from those growers who do not protect their press wine with sulfur – they are the ones who have less oxidation.

A related area of research is looking at the organoleptic (taste/smell) oxidised molecules to try and work out the reaction pathways which produce them, then we have the pointers to why the must may be so sensitive to oxidation. Also there is the question of why some vintages appear more prone to oxidation than others…(?)

If I take the example of a case of 12 2002 Puligny-Montrachet and some are apparently randomly oxidised, this, at least, is partly a function of the seal and bottling regime. Important is not how much SO2 is in the wine, rather the amount of ‘active’ SO2 balanced to the quantity of oxygen in the wine. We have been working to see if cork could absorb SO2. Whilst corks have a natural variable permeability and porosity, the study below shows that cork does not absorb SO2

We believe that the problems of oxidation associated with the bottling/corking regime are under control – the correct SO2 level, low amounts of oxygen and a good seal are the best guarantee of ageable wines. The experimental wines produced in the most recent vintages do not demonstrate any oxidation traits on the palate at this time.

I questioned whether the data was in place to substantiate this in respect of real bottles in people’s cellars:

All the trails done so-far, including the laboratory analyses to define the levels of oxidation in the young bottles, plus audits on the bottling processes – very useful as it showed that some producers were bottling wine that was already (partly) oxidised – indicate a correct balance if the basic advice of the BIVB is followed. Of-course, time is critical to the eventual oxidation process and it’s not yet possible for us to to speed this up…


Poster 1 Poster 2 Study 1 Study 2 Study 3
Poster 1
Identifying oxidation volatiles
Poster 2
Sorption of sulfur dioxide onto cork
Study 1
Wine Oxidation and the Role of Cork
Study 2
Adsorption equilibria of sulfur dioxide on cork
Study 3
Adsorption equilibria of water vapour on cork

6 responses to “Random ruminations…”

  1. Winetemplar

    Thanks for putting these studies up Bill.

  2. david klinger

    many thanks for posting these fascinating reports …

  3. Mark Goldberg

    Bill, thanks for these reports regarding oxidation.In this May’s issue of Wine Spectator there is an artical regarding wine closures and oxidation. A 10 year study was undertaken by the Australian Wine Research Institute showing what happens to good wine under different closures over time. After a decade the wines sealed under screw cap showed an appealing and aged character while retaining freshness in blind tastings.All the others sealed with synthetic and cork closures showed varying degrees of oxidation. The cover story in that issue is “Romanee- Conti, Heaven on Earth, The World’s Benchmark for Pinot Noir.” Makes great reading for Burgundy lovers.

  4. Francis

    Very interesting random of thoughts and results of experimentations lead by the BIVB.
    Burgundian myself, it is always a huge disappointment when at the occasion of tasting with colleagues, clients and at home to find the wine I have been waiting for a specific occasion is not up to its standards.

    In the process of premature oxidation I have always wondered if the vegetal row (clone Vs massal selectioned plant; yields like those in 19990; grape conveying process used benne Vs cagettes; hand picking Vs machine harvets; use of deficient pumps; amount of new oak and corresponding dose of SO2 and finally what happens during the press.

    I know there is a trend in Burgundy at the moment, some producers are coming back to the old basket press, giving up with pneumatic presses.
    I have always wondered while working during the vendanges, what could happen to the free run juice running off the press into the collector basket.

    I have stressed my thoughts in a discussion with a MW which he classified as irrelevant.

    I am glad to see it might not be as irrelevant as i was told and the production of materials at the end of your article will certainly help me to understand even better what is really happening in the process of leading towards premature oxidation, and also it will enlarge my personal knowledge of the subject.

    Thank you very much to Burgundy Report for publishing such a good article on the subject and to the BIVB for leading such experimentation/research.


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