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When Is the Right Time?

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Jul 11, 2007 12:02pm ET

I opened two bottles of Burgundy during the past week. One was sublime, the other was disappointing.

The disappointment came from a Chambolle-Musigny Les Charmes 2001 from Domaine Barthod-Noëllat. It was simply too young and in a dumb phase. The aroma was candied cherry, though I got the sense of more fruit in reserve. Despite being pure and focused, it was tart, with firm tannins. My guess is it had shut down.

I was curious to try this wine because I had had two stunning bottles from the 2001 vintage a month ago in Beaune. They were both Gevrey-Chambertin Clos St.-Jacques from Domaine Armand Rousseau. In fact, the first bottle was so good I ordered it again the next night.

My thinking was that if the 2001s tasted in Burgundy were showing well, my ’01s should be coming around also. I still have a few more bottles of the Barthod-Noëllat Chambolles, from several vineyards, but I will wait another two to three years before trying one again.

I had tasted the Les Charmes almost two years ago to the day. It was still full of the fresh, primary fruit character. Currently, there is more structure showing than fruit.

I have drunk a lot of Barthod-Noëllat wines, often at restaurants. I have had bottles from 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002. Generally, they have shown well any time I have ordered them, offering fragrant aromas and plenty of floral and berry flavors and silky textures.

The other bottle I tried was my last of the Domaine Michel Esmonin & Fille Gevrey-Chambertin Clos St.-Jacques 1996. It was gorgeous. Lush black cherry and rich earth aromas announced its lush texture and sweet fruit flavors.

It didn’t budge much over the few hours it took to consume, despite decanting, suggesting it is still very young. However, it had all the elements I look for in red Burgundy: rich fruit, secondary aromas of earthy, woodsy tones, spice and sweetness matched with silkiness. At 10 years, it was just beginning to show its evolution.

From these and other past experiences, I find that I tend to drink my Burgundies too young. Though many vintages are delicious out of the gate (1999, 2002, 2003 and 2005 come to mind), there comes a time when you have to forget them for several years.

Furthermore, I’m often surprised at how well Burgundy ages. I enjoyed some wines from the ’60s and ’70s on my recent trip there. With the exception of one red, they were all drinking beautifully. A few were stunning.

It’s difficult to project exactly when a wine will be at its peak. That’s why it’s good to buy multiple bottles. I try to buy between three bottles and a case of a specific wine, depending on the price. That allows for a little margin of error when I open something on the early side.

It’s also important to know when you like to drink certain wines. I find that I enjoy red Bordeaux between eight and 12 years of age, but that depends on the quality of the vintage and the level of wine.

The same goes for Burgundy. I’ll be stocking up on some good Bourgogne rouge and village wines from 2005 to enjoy while I wait for the better premiers and grands crus.

Bryan Bucari
Baton Rouge, LA —  July 11, 2007 3:59pm ET
Is there a way to tell if a wine is going through a dumb phase, if you have never tasted it before? I know it is easy when you have tasted greatness from the bottle before, but I have always wondered if there is a way to tell on the wines never tasted before. Or is it a, "I suspect," sort of deal based on past good/great vintages.
John Miller
Windsor, CA —  July 11, 2007 6:22pm ET
The evolution of a good Burgundy with age is why I tend to prefer them over American pinots. You don't often find older vintages of pinots, and they don't seem to me to benefit from bottle age as much as their french counterparts. Bruce, do you find that is true and if so, do you think its a difference in winemaking or a terroir thing?
Susan Thomas
Austin, TX —  July 11, 2007 8:36pm ET
Having tried some other 2001s and found them not so ready, this past Saturday I had the 2001 Armand Rousseau Chambertin, decanted for a few hours, and it was just stunning. So now I am awakening to the realization that Burgundy drinking windows vary region to region within a given vintage. Back to school.
Bruce Sanderson
New York —  July 12, 2007 8:52am ET
Brian--It's difficult to tell without some comparison i.e. the same wine at an earlier, or later stage, or experience. I find generally with Burgundy (and Pinot Noir), which seems to be more sensitive to bottling, shipping and more moody as it matures, the fruit disappears and you see more of the structure (acidity, tannins). The wine(s) are more lean and angular. Sometimes they are more one-dimensional.John--I would agree with your statement. For me, its the difference in terroir. I have had some older CA Pinots that have developed well. Bear in mind that Burgundy has had a lot more experience, history and tradition with Pinot Noir. In California, they are just finding the best places to grow it and in most cases the vineyards are very young. But the fruit quality and structures are very different between the two regions.Susan--I consider Burgundy a lifetime of schooling.
July 13, 2007 3:23am ET
The time is right when you want to open the wine. Some like them young and some like them old..... but those Tuesday nights when I crave an intellectual bottle is always good too! No regrets when you can enjoy a great bottle... be it young or old..... Burgundy is alway best in this scenario.
Steve Barber
Clayton, CA. —  July 16, 2007 1:22pm ET
Use a Clef Du Vin to try to mimic ageing and snap the wine out of the dumb phase. Maybe you could have found a sweet spot?
Bruce Sanderson
New York —  July 16, 2007 1:36pm ET
Steve,I'm not familiar with the Clef du Vin. Have you had good results with it? Anyone else tried it?
Steve Barber
Clayton, CA. —  July 18, 2007 1:00am ET
Bruce:I have had good results. A sommelier at Ledson-Sonoma and I have used it to take out several wines in terms of age. Also, I used it at a Taste of Sonoma barrel event, where winemakers at several locations thought it took the "funk" off the barrel sample. IWA sells it, and links to WS. I use a Chateau Laguiole with the Clef Du Vin blade.
Chris Hacker
Florida —  August 6, 2007 1:54pm ET
Bruce, got any info on a Louis Jadot Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Boudots 1994? I see various write ups and rankings for other vintages but not not the 1994.
Bruce Sanderson
New York —  August 7, 2007 12:26pm ET
Chris--We taste a number of Jadot wines each year, but not the entire range of more than 100 wines. The NSG Les Boudots 1994 was not rated by Wine Spectator.The 1994 vintage looked promising until rain just before and during harvest. Those that harvested late benefited from some additional ripening. There may be surprises, but the best wines are probably at their peak.
Chris Hacker
Florida —  August 7, 2007 6:41pm ET
that's what i needed to know. Thank you
Travis G Snyder
Salt Lake City —  August 28, 2007 1:45am ET
I am heading to Beaune in 10 days. I am curious, Mr. Sanderson, were the "stunning bottles from the 2001 vintage a month ago in Beaune. They were both Gevrey-Chambertin Clos St.-Jacques from Domaine Armand Rousseau" from private collections or a restuarant. If it were a restaurant, would you mind telling us which one. Seems like a promising place to visit.BTW: I tried a bottle of Alex Gambal Vosne Romanee 2005 a couple of nights ago, it was pure structure: acid and tannins, blocky and mean, but not unpleasant. There was some cherry buried in there, but it was a stretch to find it. I think I will pick up more, but wait awhile before tring again. I also tried his regional Bourgogne, which was fantastic and giving, very rich and bold, fruit, forest, the best wine simply labeled Burgundy, that I have yet to taste.
Bruce Sanderson
New York —  August 28, 2007 12:07pm ET
Travis--The restaurant where we enjoyed the Rousseau Clos St.-Jacques 2001 is Bistro de l'Hotel, just off Place Carnot in Beaune. I recommend you make reservations. Check out James Suckling's blog from June 15, 2007 for more on the restaurant.Your experience with the Gambal wines illustrates the structure of the 2005s and why one needs to have patience with them. It also illustrates why it's important to have all quality levels. You can enjoy the Bourgogne while you wait for the villages, premiers and grands crus to develop.

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