New York Wine Experience attendees began Friday morning with a high-powered trip through Burgundy’s Côte d’Or—tasting classic crus that showed why Burgundy Pinot Noir is one of the pinnacles of the wine world.
“I’ve tasted red Burgundy for many years, and sometimes I think the more I taste the less I understand,” said senior editor Bruce Sanderson of the oft-elusive, delicate reds.
The seminar included four wines from the excellent 2012 vintage—two from the Côte de Beaune, followed by a pair from the Côte de Nuits. The vintage started out challenging, Sanderson explained, with complications that included spring frost, poor grape set and hail. But the harvest was saved by low yields. “The smaller crop was a blessing in disguise,” he said, describing the resulting wines as marked by “ripeness and density, with freshness and precision.”
The first wine was Domaine de Courcel Pommard Grand Clos des Épenots 2012 (92 points, $175). Gilles de Courcel—whose family has owned the estate, now totaling 25 acres, since the 16th century—has run it with his three sisters since 1983. “We own only the very top premier cru vineyards in Pommard,” he said.
Since the 1990s, Courcel added, “We have been working on increasing the intensity of the terroir” in the domaine’s wines—through farming practices that encourage deep root growth, picking ripe fruit and using “very natural” winemaking with no filtration.
“We’ve all heard the expression of an iron fist in a velvet glove,” Sanderson said of the Pommard. “I think it’s the perfect description for this wine.”
Nathalie Tollot next presented Tollot-Beaut Corton-Bressandes 2012 (94, $145). Her family’s 60-acre domaine began in the 1880s after the outbreak of phylloxera; in the 1950s, they added 2.5 acres of Corton-Bressandes vineyards.
The family’s focus is “vineyard work,” especially important with temperamental Pinot Noir. Echoing the theme of a potentially disastrous vintage that ended happily, Tollot said this 2012 grand cru “shows what a very good classic Burgundy can be. To me, Bressandes is always one of the more elegant Cortons.”
Moving north to the Côte de Nuits—known for slightly more muscular wines—Etienne Grivot of Domaine Jean Grivot presented his grand cru Clos de Vougeot 2012 (94, $325). Grivot, who works with his daughter and son in the vineyards and cellars, owns 37 acres across 18 different appellations. “My philosophy is to give perfect balance between energy and suavity,” he said. “For me, Pinot Noir should be like a caress.”
The last winemaker to present was the youngest, Pierre Gelin, 37, who has run his family’s 90-year-old, 31-acre estate for 15 years and has recently converted it to organic farming. This vintage was only the second in his new eco-friendly winery. In 2012, he said, “We harvested the perfected grapes.”
“It’s a very pure wine,” he said of the resulting Pierre Gelin Chambertin-Clos de Bèze 2012 (95, $250) from this coveted grand cru vineyard in Gevrey-Chambertin. “Very refined. The tannins are silky and sweet.”
All in all, after a rough start, 2012 was a vintage that surprised even the winemakers.
WineSpectator.com members: Learn more about the 2012 red Burgundies with Bruce Sanderson's tasting report, "An Elegant Year."