White Burgundy Is A Harsh Mistress

You'd think, Chardonnay, what's the big deal? It's grown all over the world, every grower and winemaker knows the book by now, it's easy peasy. But the thing is, while Chardonnay has the magic ability to reflect every whisper in the vineyard, everything has to come together just right in the vineyard for the potentially perfect balance of fruit and acidity. Then, you need a winemaker with a calm hand in the barrel room, and you need to wait a generous number of years for the oak to integrate with the fruit. Oh, and let's not forget premox. Since the mid-90's, Burgundy has been plagued by that dreaded curse: premature oxidation. 

(Let's pause on that. The key word here is premature. White Burgundy used to be one of the longest-lived of white wines. While people drink premium New World Chardonnays at, say, five years post-vintage, the expectation with Burgundy Premier and Grand Crus has always been for them to peak at 15-20. That really hasn't been the cases in the last few decades. There are actually sites tracking which producers are more susceptible to premox, based on user experience with flawed bottles.)

Then, after you've jumped through all these hoops, you start can looking for greatness. And pay for it. And pay and pay. And then you start praying that TCA won't show its ugly head.

Boyer-Martenot, Bourgogne Aligote, 2018

There's always an appetizer on these occasions. This one was interesting enough in its own right to write home about. A lovely nose, although a simple one, with matchsticks and lemon, nice acidity. Someone said the nose outshone the palate, which is true, but with any Aliogte that is less than stellar example, the best you can really hope for is basic balance and palate cleansing acidity, which is what this wine provides.

Domaine Fourrier, Bourgogne Blanc, 2014

Let's get some basic facts out of the way. This is actually from a Village vineyard in Morey-St.-Denis, but the appellation doesn't allow for white wines. The wine is not a common sight, but I actually drank the 2010 at the age of six and it was a very fresh, vibrant wine that I preferred to a Chassagne Premier Cru and a Corton-Charlemagne on that occasion. I don't know what to make of the performance of the 2014. 2010 is, by common consensus, a great year for both reds and whites, while 2014 is an excellent white vintage. Yet, the 2014 is for far removed from everything that was charming about the 2010, that it might well have been made by a different team. It starts out nicely, notes of matchsticks on the nose piercing an initially discrete veil. Then, slowly but surely, oak starts to overwhelm, first on the nose, then on the palate.

Domaine Vrignaud, Fourchaume, Cotes de Fontenay, 2014

The nose develops very well, blooming into a very nuanced picture: sea shells, sea water, a slight kiss of smoke. The palate is lively with perfectly balanced acidity and a salty finish.  This costs over 300 NIS. I'll pick a bone now - not with the wine but with the, uh, state of things. Even in Israel, you can find loads of Chablis Premier Crus at half the price. Some of them are as good as this one. Most aren't. It seems that 300 NIS is the current ballpark figure for a Premier Cru of this quality, in Israel. I'll be in the corner weeping in silence.

Domaine Billaud-Simon, Chablis Grand Cru, Les Preuses, 2014

Again, a slight kiss of smoke on the nose, with marine notes as counterpoint. Does it have the intensity of a Grand Cru? Yes! The nose speaks with Grand Cru complexity, the acidity is terrific, the finish is long. Excellent. If this was a chick, she might not be drop dead gorgeous, but you'd kill to feel the touch of her skin.

Chateau du Puligny-Montrachet, St. Aubin Premier Cru, En Remilly, 2014

For years, the Chateau has been managed and led by Etienne de Montille as a second day job. It's always a dependable property, but the bottom rungs of its portfolio are not always very exciting. Okay, I might be harsh, it's been years since I've had occasion to taste the wines, but I went through my old notes and the disappointments piled up like unpaid bills. This wine does little to make me miss the domaine. It's a lean wine, but without the finesse of Puligny. Bitter finish. A little too obvious, not very complex or intense, but right at the peak of drinkability.

Bouchard, Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru, Le Morgeot, 2014

Fossils on the nose, a full, deep, complex body. There's oak here, but it's integrated deftly with the fruit. My take on Chassagne is I usually pick up something rustic and brawny in the wines that seems to help the wines subsume the oak. A truly lovely wine.

Chateau des Quartes, Pouilly-Fuisse, Clos des Quartes, 2014

This is another Comte Lafon side project in the Macon wildlands (Heritiers Lafon is still one of the best values in Burgundy). It's charmingly coarse and rustic on both nose and palate. 

Domaine Etienne Sauzet, Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru, Les Perrières, 2014

I've re-read my old notes on Sauzet as well. Expensive wines, but in no way is this an overhyped estate. At the age of eight, Premier Crus from a good vintage are elegant and tasty, complex and deep. Even the 2003 Champs-Canet avoided the perils of that exceedingly hot year. There's a lovely coolness to the nose - my first, poetic impression was "hot rocks cooled off by a pail of river water". A great wine. Elegant, long, savory, harmonious a great balance of sweet, salty, sour flavors

Maison Michel Picard, Corton-Charlemagne, 2010

Corton-Charlemagne, a Grand Cru vineyard so large that for years it was the last of the barely affordable Grand Crus. Also, it's usually quite unlike the other Cote de Beaune whites. In this case, there is a character at play that would not be out of place in Savennières: an ashy, honeyed nose, a palate that is sculpted even more than it is structured. A fine wine.