- Published on Monday, 21 January 2013 10:45
- Written by Richard Siddle
I fancy myself an old hand at Bordeaux en primeur tastings. I'm used to gums, teeth and elbows feeling decidedly battle-scared after the assault of youthful tannins and overly-enthusiastic attendees chasing the last sip of Cheval Blanc or D'Yquem.
Burgundy is another matter. Despite loving the wines, something about their infinite subtlety eludes me - and the trade's traditional January tastings were not something I'd directly experienced before.
Still, specialist merchant Flint Wines were kind enough to invite me to their showing earlier this month. Happily, the venue was minutes from my hairdresser - a perfect exit strategy if it all got too ethereal - or "farmyard".
First impressions? There's a reassuring simplicity to a tasting where there are only two grape varieties - one red, one white. No more tiresome questions: "Was that 5% or 5.5% Petit Verdot?" or worse "Let me get this straight - The Roter Veltliner was oak-aged, the Rotgipfler destemmed?".
Having said that, I headed straight for the lone Beaujolais Cru in the room - seriously impressive expressions of Gamay from Château du Moulin a Vent, Romanèche-Thorins.
Tasting 2011 Burgundy was overwhelmingly pleasant and easygoing, especially compared to "backward", "massively endowed" Medoc classed growths with "great gobs of pencil shavings, forest floor" or whatever the tasting "mot du moment" might be.
The selection was impressive, and quality very consistent and very high - Flint wines specialises in bringing smaller producers to our shores, so there were many (at least to me) unfamiliar names, plus a few stalwarts (Domaine Dujac, Domaine des Lambrays, Hudelot-Noellat). And a refreshing lack of "luxury brand" investors or independent financial advisers.
The white wines made the biggest impression. I was reminded that there is nowhere in the world like Burgundy for elegant Chardonnay. The 2011s have ripeness, finesse and serious minerality. This was a restrained year for alcohol levels, a very welcome development. It did however result in occasionally lean or austere wines.
There were unexpected perils. Matching producers to their entry in the tasting booklet was anything but straightforward. The Napoleonic inheritance laws are infamous for having parcellated Burgundy into tiny holdings over successive generations, and vigneron families were frequently represented in multiple chapters, chez Flint.
Woe betide that I nearly confused the admittedly very fine Chassagne-Montrachets of Domaine Paul Pilot with the, er, admittedly very fine Chassagne-Montrachets of Domaine Jean-Marc Pillot.
It was super mean of Flint Wines to juxtapose their table numbers.
Finally, the prevalent risk at any tasting attended by the wine world's great and good: Olympic spitters, whose site-line to the spittoon must not be impeded. Luckily the great Oz Clarke was there to demonstrate how this is done properly. I moved to allow him to get closer than 1.5m. "Don't worry" said a colleague, "he can hit it from there". And he was right.
A few wines that stood out:
Domaine Gilles Morat Pouilly-Fuissé Bélemnites - One of two superbly focused single vineyard wines from this domaine. Perfect balance of ripeness, depth and minerality.
Domaine Paul Pilot Puligny-Montrachet 'Enseigneres' - Peachy elegance, extremely sensitive oak and attractively austere finish
Domaine Jean Tardy - Charming Fixin "La Place", with really seductive, soft fruit and an effortlessly toned and mineral Echezeaux Grand Cru.
Domaine Hubert de Montille Volnay 1er Cru Taillepieds - perfumed nose, great structure and very refined tannins.
Domaine Hudelot-Noellat Clos Vougeot Grand Cru - impressively complex and drinkable even at this stage. Subtly spiced, refined but structured. My wine of the day.
* You can read more from Simon Woolf at wwwthemorningclaret.com