When you cradle a bottle of wine, you’re holding a moment suspended in time. Drink a wine from a particular year or vintage, and you’re traveling back to that place and time the wine was grown, harvested and bottled.
But what determines the quality of what’s in the bottle? What makes a particular vintage stellar and another just average?
Weather for the most part. Good weather produces good harvests of healthy grapes – the ideal being a long cool growing season where sufficient sun enables the acids and fruit flavours in the grape to develop in a harmonious way.
In contrast, rain prior to harvest tends to dilute the flavour of the fruit. Frost, hail and pests destroy fruit resulting in rotten grapes and ultimately less than decent wine.
Weather and growing conditions
In 2008, one of the world’s famous wine producing regions, acclaimed for some of the world’s most expensive wines and acknowledged as the most terroir-conscious of French wine regions had to face the wrath of Mother Nature.
Spring came off with a good start. It was warm and by mid May, vines were producing leaves. Summer in Burgundy was nothing short of disastrous. The flowering period was cold and rainy. Grapes are formed when the flowers on the grapevine are fertilized. But because of the unfavorable weather, many grapes failed to develop. What resulted was coulure (loose bunches of grapes), and millerandage (uneven berry sizes) – bunches of grapes of which more than half of the grapes are undeveloped green hard small berries.
Wet weather during ripening compounded things further – mildew and rot became a concern. Then came some hail. Hail can shred leaves and also break open berries. One could imagine growers wringing their hands in woe.
Luckily, things turned around in September, when the sun came out during the last phase of the ripening season. A wind from the North also helped dry the crops and by harvest, things were looking up. And with good weather all the way through, the vintage was saved. If vignerons ended up with fewer and smaller grapes, the resulting juice turned out to be quite concentrated. At the end, wines, from the basic Bourgogne right up to the Grand Cru turned out to be quite elegant, with good acids (thanks to the cool temperatures throughout the year) and considerable elegance. Reds were pure whilst whites were delicious.
The 2008 is turning out quite well indeed
It’s true what they say about ‘what makes the news’ – that bad news sells good press. Burgundy’s 2008 vintage struggles with the weather certainly were no exception.
Many a Burgundy aficionado decided to write off the 2008 vintage. I was not an exception.
All that changed only recently when I visited Burgundy. Thanks to a well-connected restaurateur friend, I got to meet three of Burgundy’s most eminent producers. What I tasted were the 2008 wines, mostly red, still being nurtured in the barrel. Though not a bountiful vintage, I am happy to report that the best producers are turning out excellent wines. All the red wines show a vibrancy of fruit, good balance and lovely expression.
How can that be?
Growing conditions of grapes are not the only influence on the finished wine. Discriminating growers can still salvage the pickings of a crop. At harvest stage, the most dedicated of producers will select grapes so that only the best grapes are used and the resulting wine could turn out to be a much higher quality than expected. Furthermore, elevage (or the nurturing of wines in the barrel) after the harvest has a lot of influence on how the ultimate wine tastes.
So the next time you uncork a vintage wine, think of what you’ve just unleashed – the bounty of the earth and skies and the inspiration, blood, sweat and tears of the producers who made the wine what it is today.
Here are the notes of some 2008 Grand Cru red wines (in barrel) at Domaine Dujac, Domaine Ponsot and Domaine Romanée-Conti (DRC). They will be sublime in years to come.
Dujac Charmes-Chambertin – Sour cherries, nuances of butter and toast, hugely tannic and impressive. For the long term.
Dujac Echezeaux – Perfumed with florals and mixed red and black fruit; sensual, lively with moderate tannins.
Dujac Clos de la Roche – Spice cabinet and mixed fruits, camphor and more. Sumptous and handsome, with tannins lurking beneath.
Dujac Clos St. Denis – Sweet nose of red and black fruits, silky tannins, chewy tannins and a long warm finish. Sensual.
Dujac Bonne-Mares – Rich and fruity with floral nuances, broad, silky tannins, with an elegant long finish.
Ponsot Griotte-Chambertin – Small red fruit, structured backbone, acidity with lots of delineation. Grip and good finish.
Ponsot Chapelle-Chambertin – Black fruit, broad in the mouth with good tannins and acid, excellent balance, developing flavours of black and red fruits, more pronounced tannins.
Ponsot Clos Vougeot – Perfumed, with blackcurrants, plums, dark fruit and spice. Tannins around the side of the mouth with flavours of black fruit, mocha, herbs and mint. Long finished.
Ponsot Clos St. Denis ‘Tres Vielle Vignes’ – Red and black fruit, herbs, pepper. spice. Flavours of yellow fruit, white fruit, flower petals, mixed spice. Silky tannins and long finish.
Ponsot Clos de la Roche ‘Veille Vignes’– Chinese herbs, mixed fruit, champignon de paris, blackberries and hint of boiled sweets. Warm long finish with bittersweet fruit, tropical fruit cake spice and structured tannins.
DRC Richebourg – Red and black cherries with a little plum; mixed red fruit, flowers and bread; fine tannins, broad in the mouth and beautifully textured but not weighty. Good acidity and finish.
DRC La Tâche – Small stone fruits and spice. Medium structure, supporting lots of sweet but never jammy, ripe fruit. Nuances of vanilla, ripe citrus fruits, stone fruit, and spice. Fine velvety tannins and long.
DRC Romanée-Conti – Perfumed, reminiscent of La Tâche with additional flavours of small red stone fruit and cassis. With the light weightedness of the Richebourg, yet with a solid structure concealed by creamy, silky textured tannins like intricately woven lace. Multi-dimensioned, long finished, feminine and sensuous.
OTHER RED WINES
Sorine et Fils, Maranges 1er Cru “Clos Roussot” – Red fruits, light yet present acids, and soft as fleece. Delicious.
Georges Chicotot, Nuits St.-Georges 1er Cru “Les Vaucrains” – Red fruits, white pepper, hint of jam and minerals.
Didier-Montchovet, Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune – Silky soft, full on flavour balanced with a sweet note.
Genot-Boulanger, Pommard 1er Cru, “Clos Blanc” – Red fruits, hint of strawberry, spicy and with tasty acids.
Stephane Brocard, Corton-Renardes, Grand Cru – Intense with lots of layers, spicy and silky with good structure.
Bouchard Aine & Fils, Charmes Chambertin, Grand Cru – Smoky with woody overtones but balanced by fruit; broad in the mouth.
Albert Bichot, Echezeaux, Grand Cru – Perfumed and quite feminine with good structure and a long finish.
OTHER WHITE WINES
Henri de Villamont, Chablis Vaudesir Grand Cru – Lots of fruit and balance, complex and complete.
Joseph Drouhin, Chablis Bougros, Grand Cru – Lots of different aromas mingling together – herbs, flowers, nuts and marmalade, lively.
Louis Latour, Corton-Charlemagne, Grand Cru – Minerals, almonds, good structure and ample in the mouth
Rous Pere & Fils Corton-Charlemagne, Grand Cru – Pears, ripe fruit, tasty acids and round.
Seguin Manuel Corton-Charlemagne, Grand Cru – Mineral oil, balanced, luscious in the mouth and long.
Domaine des Perdrix, Nuits-Saint Georges, Blanc, 1er Cru, “Les Terres Blanches”– Brimming with pear, grapefruit and green apples made for a memorable and unexpected white wine from a mostly red wine appellation.
Denis Bouchacourt, Macon-Solutré – White fruits and florals, beautiful mid palate, complete in every sense with a lovely long finish.
Domaine de la Saraziniere, Bourgogne Aligoté – Floral, round lively with a touch of tangy acid and a finish of peach and pear. Very tasty.
Ninot Rully 1er Cru Gresigny – Scintillating acidity yet elegant with citrus white and yellow fruits, a hint of minerals and nuts with a long finish.
Sylvain Pataille, Marsannay – Nose of white flowers, flavours of white fruits, round and sweet, soft effervescent acids, beautifully presented.