Undeniably, Auxey-Duresses must be counted among the lesser known appellations in Burgundy. Its wines can be something that’s far too uncommon in the rather rarefied market for Burgundy: good values. Premier Cru bottlings from some of the best producers in the commune can still be had for prices that don’t exceed by much the price for the basic Bourgogne Rouges and Blancs from some estates in more illustrious areas. Auxey’s whites lack the richness of the wines from neighboring Meursault. Its reds may give something away in breed to the wines of Volnay, just to the North. However, the lean structure and lacy texture of Auxey-Duresses – I’m speaking of both red and white here – can give wines of immense character.
Jean-Pierre Diconne is at once among the most respected and most old-fashioned of producers in Auxey-Duresses. His cellars are rustic, his wine making techniques straightforward and natural, and his personality undeniably affable. And his wines are pure expressions of place. He produces lovely examples of commune level Auxey-Duresses Rouge and a very fine Premier Cru “Les Duresses.” Nonetheless, from a village where three of every four bottles produced are of red wine, it’s with true pleasure that I look forward to the arrival, once every few years, of a tiny quantity of the Jean-Pierre’s Vieilles Vignes Blanc. In good vintages, it can be an astounding wine. When I first tasted the 2002 version, it was brimming with granny smith and greengage fruit, allied with golden flesh and tensile nerve on a medium-bodied frame. It struck me as a wine that might last for quite some time in a well kept cellar; accordingly, I hoarded away a half-case or so.
Recently revisiting the 2002, five years after the vintage, my initial reaction upon pulling the cork was one of trepidation. Sherry-like aromas, a telltale sign of oxidation, were the first scents that rose from the glass. There was still fruit – ripe pears and honeysuckle along with some toasted hazelnut notes – but that oxidative note held it at bay. For those of you who are fans of white Burg, this may come as little surprise. There have been huge discussions for the last couple of years about early, unexpected oxidation in these wines. For a good overview of the issue from various quarters of the wine world, check out:
- “Beauty and the Beast: Premature Oxidation,” an article by Dr. Jamie Goode in issue 14 of The World of Fine Wine
- The huge topic thread at eRobertParker.com
- A very detailed Wiki site devoted to the issue of oxidized Burgundy
While most of the research and comments in these articles and discussions have focused on the vintages from 1996-2000, there have been continuing worries about wines from subsequent years. Suffice it to say that I was worried, based upon my first impressions, about the fate of my remaining stash of J-P’s 2002.
Here’s the good news. As the evening continued, as the wine warmed up from its cold spell in the fridge and as the contents of our glasses met with some aeration, the oxidative notes seemed, at the very least, to dissipate. Though never as nervy as when originally tasted, elegance and fruit unfolded as the nutty, tired hints receded. In the end, the wine not only opened up beautifully but also paired surprisingly well with a salad of fresh beets, arugula and goat cheese inspired by a recent recipe in Gourmet.
All things considered, I’ll be cutting my losses and remapping the original drinking schedule for my remaining bottles. Hopefully, they’ll continue to bring pleasure over the next year or two. In the meanwhile, undaunted, I’ll be waiting for the next small shipment from M. Diconne’s cellars to grace our shores.