2004 White & Red Burgundy

The 2004 vintage in Burgundy is a tale of two colours… Since they were first released, the reds have been largely derided and described mainly as light to medium-bodied with high acidity and lacking the fruit found in more generous vintages (and in the worst cases, having green, stalky flavours which totally overpower the fruit). The whites, however, were very much lauded and were described as being classic and pure with firm acidities and direct, mineral palates.

To see if this was truly the case, a group of eleven of us in the wine trade gathered last week to taste the wines with 10 years under their belt. We all provided at least one bottle of white and one bottle of red, assembling an impressive collection of the following 12 whites and 14 reds:

 

Whites

2004 Macon Verze, Domaine Leflaive

2004 Chassagne Montrachet 1er cru La Romanee, Fontaine-Gagnard

2004 Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Clavoillon, Domaine Leflaive

2004 Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Perrières, Louis Carillon

2004 Puligny Montrachet Les Enseigneres, J-F. Coche-Dury

2004 Meursault Tessons Clos de Mon Plaisir, Guy Roulot

2004 Meursault 1er Cru Poruzots, Francois Jobard

2004 Meursault 1er Cru Charmes, Domaines des Comtes Lafon

2004 Meursault 1er Cru Goutte d’Or, Domaine d’Auvenay

2004 Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet, Louis Carillon

2004 Batard-Montrachet, Marc Colin

2004 Corton Charlemagne, Louis Jadot

 

Reds

2004 Charmes Chambertin, Denis Bachelet

2004 Charmes Chambertin, Armand Rousseau

2004 Charmes Chambertin, Christian Serafin

2004 Charmes Chambertin, Domaine Dujac

2004 Griotte Chambertin, Laurent Ponsot

2004 Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru Clos St Jacques, Armand Rousseau

2004 Clos Vougeot, Hudelot-Noellat

2004 Clos Vougeot, Thibault Liger-Belair

2004 Clos de la Roche Vieilles Vignes, Laurent Ponsot

2004 Bonnes Mares, Nicolas Potel

2004 Bonnes Mares, Comtes de Vogue

2004 Musigny Vieilles Vignes, Comtes de Vogue

2004 Echezeaux, Jean Grivot

2004 Echezeaux, Domaine de la Romanee-Conti

 

Admittedly, these wines do not exactly constitute the full range of quality levels in Burgundy but instead they are made up of what should be some of the best examples of the vintage.

We tasted the wines in flights of two, made our notes and then briefly discussed each wine to see what everyone thought. In general, most of the group was in agreement about the overall quality and style of each wine but there were some very interesting disagreements about some of the wines, making for a very thought-provoking evening.

We started with the 2004 Macon Verze, Domaine Leflaive and the 2004 Chassagne Montrachet 1er cru La Romanee, Fontaine-Gagnard. Firstly, the Macon Verze showed caramel and spice notes and a refreshing yet slightly tired palate. Not bad for Leflaive’s first vintage of this wine but it was a little over the hill and displayed a slight bitterness on the finish. The Fontaine-Gagnard, however, was singing. Lovely peach and orange peel aromas eminated from the glass and the wine was forthright yet mouth-watering on the palate. A lovely glass of wine.

Next we had the 2004 Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Clavoillon, Domaine Leflaive and the 2004 Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Perrières, Louis Carillon. On first smell, the Leflaive was overwhelmed by a struck match aroma, which was not entirely unpleasant, but then aromas of caramel and spice came through. I was not that impressed with it actually, describing the nose as heavy (which is what one does not want from a classic White Burgundy). The palate was similar in that it lacked a bit of zing and the finish had a bitter note. I feel this too was a bit over the hill. The Perrieres from Carillon was completely different in that it was fresh, showed citrus aromas on the nose and had refreshing acidity on the palate.This should all point to a very good White Burgundy indeed, except that it was, well…. boring. Everything in place but lacked real character.

We moved on to two wines from perhaps my two favourite growers in Burgundy, 2004 Puligny Montrachet Les Enseigneres, J-F. Coche-Dury and 2004 Meursault Tessons Clos de Mon Plaisir, Guy Roulot. The Coche was absolutely classc, showing the tell-tale mineral and apple aromas common to his wines and lovely definition and structure on the direct palate. A very good wine indeed. We then moved on to the Roulot which was the first wine which really divided opinion. I and some others thought the nose had a strange, cheesy smell whilst others thought this was classic Roulot on form. There was no disagreement on the palate though, which had lovely texture and balance.

Both the 2004 Meursault 1er Cru Poruzots, Francois Jobard and 2004 Meursault 1er Cru Charmes, Domaines des Comtes Lafon were unfortunately a disappointment for different reasons. The Jobard was pretty awful. I thought it smelled and tasted more like White Rhone than White Burgundy and had an odd note of Coca-Cola on the nose, not something I generally look for in Chardonnay…. Needless to say, we moved on rapidly to the Charmes from Comtes Lafon, which was annoyingly corked. We were all very disappointed as Lafon wines have gained an unfortunate reputation for prematurely oxidising so we wanted to see if this was in good condition or not, but the cork taint was so strong that any attempt at trying to judge it was impossible.

The next pair were the 2004 Meursault 1er Cru Goutte d’Or, Domaine d’Auvenay and the 2004 Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet, Louis Carillon. They couldn’t have been more different. The d’Auvenay had an incredible nose of buttered popcorn with hints of spice and toffee. The palate was near-perfect with lovely texture, balance and richness. This was generally thought to be the white wine of the tasting with everyone raving about its individuality and outright quality. The Bienvenues from Carillon was very much like the Perrieres we had earlier in the tasting – all the constituent parts were there but it didn’t show proper Grand Cru quality nor did it prove to be a very interesting wine.

The final whites were the 2004 Batard-Montrachet, Marc Colin and 2004 Corton Charlemagne, Louis Jadot. I don’t know the wines of Marc Colin very well but this was a brilliant wine. The nose was very complex with notes of spice, flowers and white fruits. The palate was very broad and had a lovely balance. I will have to try some more of his wines in the future. We finished with the Corton Charlemagne from Jadot which was, sadly, oxidised. Jadot’s whites are known for prematurely oxidising and this showed all the attributes – total lack of fruit, sherried aromas and a sickly, dead palate.

Having finished tasting all the whites, we had a quick breather and moved on to the reds. We started with 2004 Charmes Chambertin, Denis Bachelet and 2004 Charmes Chambertin, Armand Rousseau. I wasn’t expecting great things from the Bachelet as the house style incorporates heavy extraction which produces dark colours and dark fruits. I thought this, combined with a light, green vintage like 2004, would produce a wine lacking in body and fruit. I was wrong. The nose bursted with ripe red and black fruits with herbal notes and the serious palate was very savoury with great texture and structure. A very good wine in any vintage. The Charmes from Rousseau which followed was completely different. Admittedly, it was more Charmes-esque with pretty, strawberry fruit on the nose and a very more-ish palate of soft red fruits but it didn’t have the seriousness or complexity of the Bachelet.

Two more Charmes to go with the 2004 Charmes Chambertin, Christian Serafin and 2004 Charmes Chambertin, Domaine Dujac. Neither of these really worked for me. The nose on the Serafin was OK (my exact note from the night…not exactly a ringing endorsement) with good ripeness for the vintage but the fruit was non-descript and simple. The palate was dry and short which I think can only come from Serafin not making allowances in the winery for the vintage (in other words, a producer has to change what he does in each vintage to ensure they get the best out of the grapes). In the case of 2004, less extraction, less oak and less intervention seemed to be the key to making better wines. The Dujac which followed suffered from exactly the same problem. Dujac used to regularly leave all the stems in the must which in a good to great vintage, give a certain structure and flavour to the wine. However, in a vintage like 2004 where the wines are already lacking fruit, it has given the wine a stalky, green, herbal nose with an overly acidic, bitter palate. It was pretty awful, actually.

Next we had the 2004 Griotte Chambertin, Laurent Ponsot and 2004 Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru Clos St Jacques, Armand Rousseau. In my humble opinion, I don’t believe Ponsot made very good wines between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s and this wine confirmed my beliefs… The nose was lacking fruit and showed simple, coffee notes and weirdly, I could actually smell the acidity. The palate was even worse with spiky acidity and a dirth of any interesting fruit. Not good. The Rousseau which followed brought a smile to my face. The Clos St Jacques had lively and pure red fruits on the nose and a charming and refreshing palate. It was a great example of what could have been produced in a vintage like 2004. It does not have the power of a 2005 or 2009 or the elegance of a 2008 or 2010, but it does have honest, pure flavours.

We then tasted the 2004 Clos Vougeot, Hudelot-Noellat and 2004 Clos Vougeot, Thibault Liger-Belair. I tried all the 2004s from Hudelot-Noellat en primeur and tried many of them again about three years ago and I was not a huge fan. They all had the same stalky, green characteristics of the vintage and the acidities were elevated to the point where it cancelled out the fruit. This was very different though – the green notes had disappeared and interesting spicy and gamey flavours had appeared. Very strange indeed. The palate has completely changed since I last tried this wine as well, showing pure red fruits and refreshing acidity. It is still a relatively light-bodied wine and I couldn’t describe it as being a blockbuster, but it had finesse and a great deal of charm. Next was the Clos Vougeot from Thibault Liger-Belair. This was similar to the Serafin in that the winemaker does not seem to have changed any techniques to suit the vintage. All this wine had was a weird note of bacon on the nose and high acidity and no fruit on the palate. Enough said, I think.

The 2004 Clos de la Roche Vieilles Vignes, Laurent Ponsot and 2004 Bonnes Mares, Nicolas Potel followed.  Like the Griotte from Ponsot tasted earlier, this was not a very good wine. In fact, they were so similar I could have used the same tasting note. The only real difference between the two wines is one is three times as expensive as the other. I feel I would be a tad disappointed if I bought either… The Bonnes Mares from Potel showed everything that is wrong with 2004 – vegetal aromas dominated the nose and the palate was clipped and acidic. A bad pair, I think it is safe to say….

And we moved swiftly on to the 2004 Bonnes Mares, Comtes de Vogue and 2004 Musigny Vieilles Vignes, Comtes de Vogue. There was some lively discussion before we even tried these wines about firstly, Bonnes Mares the appellation and secondly, the expectation that these wines were going to be in the normal mould of de Vogue wines (which is characterised by quite hard structures and sometimes, a lack of charm). One doyen of the wine industry declared to the group that Bonnes Mares was the least interesting Grand Cru in the Cote de Nuits and that he would be non-plussed if he never had another one again. His final question to the table was, ‘have any of you ever had a great Bonnes Mares ?’. Following this comment, we put nose to glass to find a relatively fine nose of red fruits but it didn’t unfortunately excite. The palate was similar and lacked fruit. Not a terrible wine but I think we all secretly agreed with our fellow taster’s earlier comments… The Musigny was altogether a different animal. The nose was very Chambolle with fragrant and pure red fruits and the palate was silky and fine. I will steal a fellow taster’s comment here and agree that the wine had real ‘energy’. This was a lovely wine with loads of charm and very different from my expectations.

We finished with 2004 Echezeaux, Jean Grivot and 2004 Echezeaux, Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. And it was a very fine way to finish… I wasn’t totally with the group on the Grivot – we all agreed it had a ripe nose of red fruits and some complexity but I thought it was a little bitter on the finish which spoiled the palate. Most of the group didn’t notice the bitterness and thought the wine was well-structured and well-balanced. There was no disagreement on the next wine though…. The Echezeaux from DRC was excellent. The nose had gorgeous red fruits with the classic DRC note of Asian spice. The palate was round, well-balanced and finished with sweet fruit, a commodity not found in most of the other reds we tried. It is amazing how the DRC can make such fantastic wines in every vintage.

After some discussion and subsequent thought I have come up with a few conclusions: the whites were not as good as I thought they would be though they suffered less from premature oxidation than I had expected. The reds were generally better than I thought they would be and that most of them have somehow lost the green, vegetal notes of the vintage which I had noticed on previous encounters. However, one important thing to note is that Burgundy prices have risen considerably over the past few years and many of these wines sell for hundreds of pounds. As a result, save for the d’Auvenay and DRC, I would prefer to buy lesser wines from better vintages than better wines from 2004. This presented an interesting conundrum for me: I have always thought that the grower trumps the vintage in Burgundy. In other words, a great producer can make great wines in any vintage. I still generally adhere to this theory but 2004 has put some doubts in my mind – maybe when the vintage is this difficult, it is better to seek lesser wines from another, perhaps more generally expensive vintage, which will give more pleasure but which might not have as illustrious a name…

Many thanks to ML for organising such an interesting evening and to the group for providing such an array of wines and for adding so many inciteful and amusing comments! You learn a lot at evenings like these.

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