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2011 Burgundy Preview: Nuit et Jour

Exploring Nuits-St.-Georges with Maison Bertrand Ambroise and Domaine Lécheneaut
Photo by: Bruce Sanderson
François Ambroise showed a range of 2011 samples on a recent visit.

Posted: Feb 6, 2013 1:00pm ET

Wine Spectator senior editor Bruce Sanderson is blogging from Burgundy as he previews the 2011 vintage. Some of the wines he is tasting have yet to be racked, while others have been assembled in barrel but not yet bottled; consequently, scores are given in ranges as these are unfinished wines that will continue to be refined before being bottled.

Maison Bertrand Ambroise, located in Prémeaux-Prissey, is managed by Bertrand Ambroise, his wife, Martine, and their children, Ludivine and François. Bertrand and François work in the vineyards and cellar.

There are 52 acres of vineyards owned by Ambroise, augmented by purchased grapes from an additional 7.5 acres, thus the "Maison" designation. The estate vineyards, stretching from St.-Romain to Clos de Vougeot, are certified organic. Most of the production is exported, with 30 percent designated for the United States.

There's a 30-day maceration for the reds, including a minimum of five days cold maceration. There has been no bâtonnage (stirring of the lees) for the whites at Ambroise since 2002. "We found that bâtonnage made the wines too heavy," explained François.

The bottling for the 2011 vintage began before Christmas for the whites and Bourgogne appellations, and most of the wines will be bottled by March. "The 2011s are very supple, with good acidity, but we decided to bottle early to preserve the fruit," said François Ambroise. The reds are bottled without fining or filtration.

From the 24 different offerings at chez Ambroise, I was impressed with the 2011 Vosne-Romanée Aux Damaudes, already in bottle, for its smoky, cherry, currant and chalky saline mineral expression packed into the taut, linear frame (87–90 points). It sees 50 percent new oak. Nuits-St.-Georges is the strength at Ambroise, and the Les Hauts Pruliers, from purchased grapes, is also silky, linear, intense and long, showing wild berry, blackberry, bilberry and a hint of herbs, accented by chalk and mineral (88–91).

Among the premiers crus, the Nuits-St.-Georges En Rue de Chaux (still in barrel, 70 percent new oak) reveals black currant, violet, and blueberry notes on an athletic frame, tight still, yet with fine intensity and energy, fresh and long (89–92). Les Vaucrains, also from barrel (100 percent new oak) is fresh, displaying concentrated black fruits matched to a firm, lacy structure. There's a mineral element and a huge finish in terms of length (90–93).

The vines for the Clos de Vougeot are an old sélection massale (where the best vines are singled out and used to propagate the entire vineyard) and average 40 to 50 years in age. Still in 100 percent new oak, it features pretty floral, black cherry, pepper and spice aromas and flavors. Concentrated, sappy and powerful, it has totally absorbed the oak, finishing very long (90–93). The Corton Le Rognet (in barrel, 100 percent new oak) comes from two parcels, with 40- and 50-year-old vines. It exudes intense fruit, cherry and blackberry notes, plus spice, with an assertive character and nervous tannins. It's still a bit chunky on the finish, but long and impressive (89–92).

There are several whites at Ambroise, the standouts being the Nuits-St.-Georges Les Terres Blanches for its rich, fleshy texture and spice, peach and mineral flavors (88–91). Fermented and aged in 100 percent new oak barrels, it was racked into tank for bottling in March. The Corton-Charlemagne is from purchased grapes. Still in barrel, 100 percent new, it's big and rich, yet with good cut defining its peach, pear, pineapple and mineral flavors. Suave and long, it ended with a toasty spice and mineral aftertaste (89–92).

The Ambroise style is one of big, rich wines, with ample concentration, density and muscle. There's quite a bit of new oak, adding polish, smoke and spice components without being heavy handed.

Elsewhere in Nuits-St.-Georges, Philippe and Vincent Lécheneaut are expanding their facility near the railway line. Their father created the domaine in 1950, but sold the entire harvest. The brothers took over in 1985 and began bottling their production from 12.5 acres.

Currently, Domaine Lécheneaut consists of 25 acres comprising 19 different appellations, all but one in the Côte de Nuits. Ninety percent of its vineyards are planted with Pinot Noir, the remainder Chardonnay in the Hautes Côtes de Nuits.

The vineyards are farmed organically, without certification. The brothers rely on indigenous yeast and spontaneous malolactic conversion. The maturation is 18 months in barrel, after which bottling takes place with no fining or filtration.

The Lécheneaut wines are pure, delivering bright fruit flavors and fine balance. They reflect their terroirs—the thinner, stonier limestone sites exhibiting finesse and elegance; the heavier soils more density and muscle.

These characteristics are expressed clearly in the 2011 range. The flowering occurred early, in May as opposed to early to mid-June, under warm and dry conditions. July was cloudy, rainy and cold, the poor weather continuing into August. From the 15th of August, the weather improved. The Lécheneauts removed leaves from the north side of the vines to improve aeration and promote phenolic maturity.

The harvest began Sept. 1, to preserve acidity and because the tannins were ripe, so there was no point in waiting. "We kept some good acidity, but the phenolic maturity was there at the beginning of September," explained Vincent. "We look for good balance."

Roughly 10 percent of the Pinot Noir was sorted out for rot. The potential alcohol was 12.0, which the brothers chaptalized to 12.5 degrees. Nothing has been bottled; a few wines are still in barrel, but most have been racked and blended together for the bottling.

There's a very good Marsannay, from the lieu dit Les Sampagny in Couchey that offers crisp cherry, spice and mineral flavors backed by a firm structure (87–90). The Chambolle-Musigny comes from six different parcels with vines averaging 70 years. It was elegant, sappy, intense and long, revealing floral, cherry and raspberry flavors (88–91).

A blend of seven different parcels, the Nuits-St.-Georges was still in barrel, of which 50 percent were new. Its vivid acidity and dense, muscular structure frame smoke- and spice-tinged fruit, with a long finish (88–91). Moving north, the Morey-St.-Denis Les Charrières features pretty aromas of flowers, cherry and spice. Less expressive on the palate, it was nonetheless persistent and long (89–92).

A pair of Nuits-St.-Georges premiers crus contrasted the fresh, mouthwatering, black cherry, licorice and mineral-flavored Les Damodes (89–92) with the fleshy and stylish Les Pruliers, whose sweet black cherry and blackberry fruit was mouthcoating and very long on the aftertaste (90–93). The former was racked and blended in tank, the latter still in barrel.

Finally, the Clos de la Roche, from tank, delivered a big, rich profile laced with cherry, raspberry, licorice, tobacco, spice and smoke, finishing long (90–93).

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