Tuesday, May 13, 2008

More on Auxey-Duresses and the Question of Premature Oxidation

Much has been written over the past few years about premature oxidation of White Burgundies. The phenomenon seems to have been particularly widespread among wines produced in the second half of the 90s and early into this decade. I’ve been lucky enough to encounter the issue on only a few occasions. Whether that truly is luck or just a sign that I haven’t been drinking enough White Burgundy is a question for me to ponder. In any event, when I last wrote about the issue, it was in the context of an episode of Exploring Burgundy, focusing on Auxey-Duresses Blanc.

The wine in question was the 2002 Auxey-Duresses Blanc “Vieilles Vignes” of Domaine Diconne. Based on tasting it upon release, I’d cellared a half-case for future enjoyment and to track its development with age. So it was with dismay that I indeed found that last bottle, at least at first glance, to have suffered from early oxidative decay. As that August night wore on though, the wine seemed to recover some of its freshness and structure and ended up being fairly pleasing, if not quite what I’d hoped.

After tasting through most of Diconne’s 2005 lineup at work a few days back, it seemed like the perfect time to revisit the 2002. This time, the first glance was of somewhat muted aromatics and tight structure. But, lo and behold, there was not a hint of oxidation in evidence. As the day wore on, more and more aromatic depth was revealed while the wine’s textures and flavors unwound. Lemon custard, green apples white stones and chalk all showed up on the palate, layered atop aromas of blooming forsythia. Oak had been entirely integrated. There was loads of grip and bracing acidity, not just linear but full and mouth filling in its liveliness. The wine was at once light, lithe and airy yet had tremendous presence, with both textures and flavors lingering for minutes on the finish. As the liquid in the bottle dwindled and its temperature warmed, coconut cream and key lime emerged along with something primal, like fresh sweat after a good workout. Final impressions were of the skin of a perfectly ripe d’Anjou pear. Just brilliant. One of the most compelling wines I’ve had this year.

I could call it a happy day and leave it at that but this shift in fortunes raises a question. Was this simply a matter of bottle variation or had the wine somehow recovered, moving through and beyond an oxidative adolescence? My first thought went to the former. However, especially after looking back at my notes from the previous bottle, I wonder more and more if there’s any credence to the latter possibility. There’s a known tendency for Chenin Blancs from the Loire, for instance, to show early oxidation but then continue to live on and develop for years. But there, the oxidation seems to become an integral part of the wine rather than integrating or disappearing entirely.

I’d love to hear from others on this. Personal, anecdotal experience is more than encouraged. I’d also be particularly interested in hearing thoughts from the scientific perspective and/or from anyone with a winemaking background. Just hit the comments with your feedback. Maybe we can all learn a little something.


Joe said...

That is one of the best tasting notes I have ever read. Any other white Auxey-Duresses recommendations? No Diconne available up here...

David McDuff said...

Thanks, Joe. That means a lot

There's not a heck of a lot of Auxey-Duresses Blanc out there. Gilles Lafouge, like Diconne, makes good (and good value) Auxey in both white and red. Lyle recommended d'Auvenay's in his comments to my earlier post but I've yet to have the chance to try it.

Josh Hermsmeyer said...

Hi David,

Sorry for the delay. I wanted to give my the other guys an opportunity to weigh in.

Oxidation chemistry is still being sorted out. In fact Andrew Waterhouse at Davis seems to have shown that Oxygen itself can be an antioxidant! Try and wrap your brain around that!

One thing is pretty clear: once a wine has been oxidized, it stays that way.

If the wine you tasted previously was darker in color than the other bottles, and you could detect acetaldehyde (nutty, smells like Sherry) then it was oxidized and something bad happened to that bottle to make it that way. Probably a bad cork or poor storage conditions at some point.

By the way, when you use the term oxidation, what characteristics are you describing?

Crazy as it sounds, it might be that what you are picking up is actually the polar opposite! Reductive characters can and do resolve themselves in wine as they age, especially wines from France.

Hope this helps!

David McDuff said...

Hey Josh,

Thanks very much for stopping by and weighing in.

I'm pretty confident that the issue at hand was oxidation rather than reduction. The bottle from August wasn't any darker than the more recent bottle but it definitely showed some faintly nutty and faded aromas. More like madeira than sherry, but that's splitting hairs. Perhaps those aromas were just more pronounced immediately after opening than after some air time.

Both bottles were from the same case, stored in perfect conditions and purchased from a temperature controlled shop and supply chain, so I don't think improper handling was an issue. A bad cork (imperfect in its seal) could have been the culprit. I guess only time (and a couple more bottles) may tell.

On a spinoff note, I'm curious about your comment regarding French wines and reductivity. Did you mean to say that French wines are more prone than wines from some/all other countries to being reductive or that they're somehow more capable of resolving their reductive issues with age?

Joe said...

Hi David. We have the Leroy, Jaffelin and Moret-Nominé - ever had any of those? I may try one for fun, but they're not cheap.

David McDuff said...

Hi Joe,
Leroy is always a solid bet if you don't mind shelling out the dollars. Jaffelin I've found less consistent, though I've not had their Auxey. I've yet to encounter anything from Moret-Nominé.

Joe said...

Yikes - that Leroy is pricey - will think about it. Don't have a good opinion of Jaffelin, so will pass on that. The Moret-Nominé might be fun, never heard of it and it is not TOO bad...thanks for the feedback.

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