While I was in Burgundy, Domaine Jessiaume in Santenay organized a tasting of its Santenay Gravières from 2009 back to 1929, with the exception of the 1939 vintage. This was another of my reasons to visit Burgundy during the week of the Hospices de Beaune auction.
I first discovered Domaine Jessiaume one day at lunch in January 2007, at the restaurant Le Terroir in Santenay. I drank a half-bottle of its Auxey-Duresses Les Ecusseaux 2004. In September 2007, I met Keith Murray of Murray Family Vineyards. His company had recently purchased the domaine (in late 2006) and he was in New York to promote the wines and increase distribution.
But Murray wasn’t just showing me a range of the current vintages. Jessiaume, founded in the 1850s, has a cellar full of older vintages. On that evening in New York, we tasted the 2005s currently available, finishing with the Santenay Gravières 1929.
A little over two years later, eight vintages from the "nines" stood on the table in the center of a room off the entrance to the Jessiaume manor house in Santenay. About 30 or so journalists and friends were greeted by Murray, brothers Marc and Pascal Jessiaume, who currently manage the vineyards and make the wines, and their father, Bernard.
We began the tasting with the 1999 Jessiaume Santenay Gravières, saving the barrel sample of 2009 for the end. The first bottle showed cooked fruit elements, with a dry rustic finish. A second bottle was also earthy and woody, with cooked cherry and plum flavors, but fresher, with good length, if dry tannins (87 points, non-blind).
The 1989 revealed a nose of ripe, stewed fruit and a touch of oxidation. It lacked the sweetness and purity of a fine 20-year-old Burgundy, ending with a sharp, dry finish (84 points, non-blind).
I was getting a little worried about the direction the tasting was heading, but I have had some older vintages with Murray in addition to the 1929 we shared on our first meeting. On another occasion, he opened Santenay Gravières 1966 and 1961, which delivered plenty of sweet fruit and spice notes.
The 1979 allayed my fears. Showing brick tones at the edge, it had a mature nose of tomato, dried cherry, earth and spice. There was a vestige of sweetness, but more reminiscent of autumn leaves and dry on the finish (87 points, non-blind).
The 60-year-old 1949 Jessiaume Santenay Gravières is still an outstanding Pinot Noir.
The '79, '69, '59 and '49 were made by Bernard Jessiaume. His approach was very pragmatic and straightforward. Whole clusters were put into the vat and the fermentation occurred without any chaptalization. During those years, if he wanted to concentrate the wine, the barrels were placed outside during the winter until ice formed and was removed.
The 1969 featured a bouquet of leather, spice and a hint of animal. It still had a nice sweetness at its center, balanced with vivacity and ending with a long, spicy aftertaste. Overall, it was firm and harmonious (89 points, non-blind).
A light brick-red color introduced the 1959, whose bouquet offered a complex mix of spice, leather and faded berry notes. On the palate, it displayed good vigor and great balance between its sweetness, vibrant acidity and ripe tannins. It picked up mineral and tea notes on the very long finish (91 points, non-blind).
Similar in color to the '59, the 1949 Santenay Gravières featured a gorgeous bouquet of sweet fruit, flowers, spice and truffle. It was intense, full and sweet, with fully integrated tannins and super length on the finish (93 points, non-blind).
No wine was made in 1939. It was the beginning of WWII and the harvest was too small to bottle anything. So we moved on to the 1929, now a mellow brick-orange color. It evoked mushroom, woodsy and spice notes, still sweet, but attenuating on the finish. A second bottle was more youthful, sweeter than the first, with denser tannins and greater length (91 points, non-blind).
It was a shock going from the burnished glow of the 1929 to the jammy brashness of the barrel sample of the 2009. Though the malolactic conversion had not started, this was rich and supple. If the 1949 and 1929 are any indication, this raw, nascent '09 has a long life ahead.
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