Saturday, September 12, 2009

Two Burgs Too Soon: Thoughts on Fat, Acidity, Heat, Wood and... Ladybugs?

In the wake of Wednesday’s questions about the aging capacity of Savennières from a warm, ripe vintage, today’s post brings two similar questions – one very closely related, one not so much. Both questions happen to be broached in the context of Burgundy. And both wines were tasted in the same context as the Savennières, with food and friends on Labor Day.

The first wine on the block was a Chablis from the 2006 vintage, a year that (very much like 1997 in Savennières) gave richer, riper wines than is the norm. The question in this case is not how the wine has fared but rather how it may develop over the course of time. Here’s what Rosemary George has to say about the vintage:

2006 is a good vintage in Chablis; July was very hot; August cooler and September warm and sunny. The grapes were ripe and healthy, for Nathalie Fèvre, the healthiest grapes since her very first vintage in 1988. Yields were slightly lower than average. If there is a criticism, acidity levels are lower than in 2004 and 2005. However, Dominique Gruhier from the Domaine de l'Abbaye du Petit Quincy in Epineuil, referred to 'invisible acidity' it is there, but nicely camouflaged by weight and fruit in the wine.

Chablis Grand Cru "Les Clos," Domaine Louis Michel et Fils 2006
Closeout; price unknown. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, AL.
Very creamy, both on the nose and in the mouth. Kumquats, orange oil and persimmons lead off on the front palate, with ripe apricots following down the mid-stretch and full-on pear nectar rounding out the finish. This is big, opulent Chablis, bearing no overt wood influence but carrying substantial fat on its frame along with an immodest spark of heat on the finish.

There’s minerality here but you really have to dig to find it, much like you do the acidity; in this context, the above reference to “invisible acidity” makes perfect sense. I suspect that the acidity and mineral components will both unfurl and become more integral as the wine ages and sheds some of its fat. My greater concern with how this might develop is the heat, as I think out of balance alcohol is far less likely to resolve over time. Pleasant drinking now, but far from classic for Grand Cru Chablis.

Vosne-Romanée, Domaine Mugneret-Gibourg 2004
~$50. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Wine Cellars Ltd., Briarcliff Manor, NY.
There’s a lean, spicy wood inflection right up front, with an aromatic profile redolent of fish oil and campfire smoke. Very dry, high-toned wood aromatics remind me of a cedar closet or, more specific to a very clear memory scent, a fresh set of cedar shoe trees. Underneath it all is a rather elegant core of classic Vosne character – firm red berry fruit, spice and fine tannic structure. We’re a good five years too early on this one but I can’t help but wonder if the wine will ever find its way out from under its oily, cedar-y topcoat.

As my tasting notes suggest, I was initially convinced that Mugneret-Gibourg’s 2004 Vosne-Romanée was suffering from a simple case of over enthusiastic oak treatment. The more I thought about it, though, the more I started to question my first impressions. I tend to associate cedar flavors and aromas with American oak – think Ridge Zinfandels or old Rioja – rather than French barrels. And what was the deal with the aromas of rendered fish oil? That’s not a reduction issue that I’m aware of, and it’s sure not Vosne terroir.

Then it hit me. Could it be the blight of the ladybugs?

I first read at Burgundy Report of the theory that a preponderance of ladybugs in the vineyards and, more importantly, in the winery, may have contributed to what Bill Nanson calls the “2004 vintage character.” It seems that there was a much larger than normal influx of ladybugs, or coccinelle, on the Côte d’Or during the 2004 harvest. As beneficial as these pretty little insects can be in the vineyard, it apparently takes no more than a few on the sorting table or in the fermentation vat to potentially imbue the eventual finished wine in question with methoxy pyrazines, natural chemical compounds that carry strong aromatic signatures even in trace quantities.

Now, I haven't sat down recently with a representative flight of 2004 red Burgundies to put this to the test, nor do I drink red Burg five nights a week as it seems does Mr. Nanson. But I don’t think I’m grasping at straws. Two key aroma factors – rancid oil and cedar – mentioned in Bill's article were clearly present in this Vosne-Romanée. In either case – ladybugs or oak – I'm not sure I see the domineering aromas integrating or fading with time.

In summary, both of these Burgundies display immediately redeeming qualities and show promise deep in their respective hearts, but I'm not sure either will be able to overcome its specific difficulties. Time will tell. Time, that is, plus a few more bottles, which I don't have. Anyone out there looking to make a contribution in the name of research?


Joe Manekin said...

Ladybugs - wow! I had no idea about this phenomenon in 04 vintage burgundy. Will definitely have to read up more on this....

David McDuff said...

Burgundy Report definitely seems to be the primary source of info on the phenomenon, Joe. Most of the incidences are related to '04 red Burgs but there's evidence and some recent notes to suggest that some whites were affected as well.

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