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A Winning Vintage for White Burgundy

The 2000s offer racy, elegant expressions of their terroirs

Per-Henrik Mansson
Posted: October 2, 2002

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The 2000 vintage is the finest for white Burgundy since 1996, the last year the region produced such an abundance of outstanding Chardonnays across a broad spectrum of appellations.

The quality is high in the Côte de Beaune, where Burgundy's most famous Chardonnay vineyards grow in the communes of Puligny-Montrachet, Meursault and Chassagne-Montrachet. These and other appellations -- St.-Aubin, and the grand cru Corton-Charlemagne are examples -- produced scores of balanced and ripe whites. Burgundy's other major white wine districts, Chablis and Mâconnais, also made many fine wines.

I place the overall quality of the 2000 white Burgundy vintage at 90 points, or outstanding, on the Wine Spectator 100-point scale. Based on my blind tastings, 2000 is better than 1999 (88 points, or very good), which is still widely available.

Some Burgundians disagree, preferring their 1999 Chardonnays. This debate is interesting in that it helps highlight the differing styles of the two vintages and, consequently, should guide you to wines that please your palate.

It is true that the 2000s are not as fleshy and opulent as the 1999s. The 2000s stand out for their finesse, elegance and mineral purity. These are not heavy, hot or alcoholic wines; they are fresh, lively, almost crystalline in the delivery of their respective terroirs. I am also impressed by the fact that the wood is already integrated in these wines, with the ripe fruit balancing the oak. Few wines had the unpleasant taste of burning oak on the finish that can be prevalent in lesser vintages.

The 2000 white Burgundies are neither as racy as the high-acid, ripe whites from the great 1996 vintage (95 points), nor as thick-textured and concentrated as the 1995s (93 points). Overall, 2000 resembles 1992 (89 points), which was a large-crop vintage that also produced balanced and subtle Chardonnays, many of which still drink well today, a decade later. In '99, the ripe fruit dominates; in '00, it's the terroir that stands out.

I loved many of the 2000s I blind-tasted in Wine Spectator's New York office earlier this year. Out of 260 2000s from 65 producers, I rated 88 wines, an impressive 34 percent of the total, outstanding. Another 35 percent scored in the very good range (85 to 89). Only 11 percent of the wines rated 79 points (average) or less. I also tasted many late-bottled, late-released 1999s, and more than 130 of them are included in this report. An alphabetical listing of all wines tasted for this report begins on page 150 of this issue's Buying Guide.

Burgundy's output of white wine represents nearly 10 million cases a year -- 60 percent of its total annual production (40 percent being red). This report is only a snapshot, focusing on the most important wines. But I believe it is representative of the excellent overall quality of white Burgundy in 2000, especially at the top domaines and négociants.

Yet, as always with Burgundy, it is hard to generalize. In 2000, growing conditions and weather patterns differed rather dramatically from one commune to another, and sometimes even within a commune. Winemaker Jean-Marc Roulot of Domaine Roulot in Meursault believes Meursault's premiers crus did better in 2000 than in 1999, but that quality is superior for the village Meursaults in 1999. "I've never bottled so much [1999 village] wine in jeroboams and magnums," says Roulot, who believes the 1999s are built for the long haul. All six 1999 Meursaults from Domaine Roulot rated outstanding, showing good citrus character and searing finish.

The high quality of the 2000s is almost miraculous given the difficulties during the growing season and harvest. July felt as if autumn had arrived, and with more than 20 days of rain, it went down as one of the coolest Julys in history. But the weather leading up to the harvest in August and September 2000 was good for the vineyards -- a bit sunnier, warmer and drier than usual. Healthy rain on Aug. 21 and Aug. 30 prevented the sort of drought conditions that can sometimes stop the growing cycle; the rainfall fed the vines, allowing the grapes to ripen at a normal, sustained rate.

Optimism reigned as the two weeks of fine weather held until the eve of the harvest. But on Sept. 12, a terrible storm struck south of Beaune. Like many storms, this one was localized, and while some communes asked to be named disaster-areas after mud and floods invaded the streets and wine cellars, others just a few miles away escaped with significantly less water. Côte de Nuits was spared the brunt of storm. (This explains, by the way, why its '00 Pinot Noirs are better than the Côte de Beaune's.)

The condition of the Pinot vineyards affected the harvest schedule of the Chardonnay sites. In Côte de Beaune, gray rot spread in the Pinot Noir parcels, especially where the grapes were very ripe and ready for picking, and the growers rushed to harvest. Then the weather cleared up and remained nice for six days; it rained on Sept. 19, but the sun then returned for another six days. Since many wineries were busy picking their Pinots during this period, the Chardonnnay grapes waited in the vineyards, gaining ripeness and concentrated flavors.

Those who harvested their Chardonnays early may have produced less interesting wines than those who picked later, whether they did so by design or by chance. Either way, in Côte de Beaune, the Chardonnay suffered less from the ravages of the rot seen in the Pinot Noir vineyards. Chardonnay's thicker skin and other advantages (i.e., fine whites can still be made with large yields, at least in top Burgundy vineyards) helped winemakers produce some terrific wines.

Yields could have been a problem in 2000, diluting the wines. Officially, winemakers were allowed to harvest 54 hectoliters per hectare (4 tons per acre), or 20 percent more than the legal rendement de base, or base yield. In 1999, the winemakers were allowed to harvest 40 percent above base yield, or 63 hectoliters per hectare (4.6 tons per acre), but French authorities wouldn't let that mistake be repeated in 2000. Still, in 2000 some vineyards carried fruit that came close to the 1999 yield levels, according to winemakers.

As a result of the relatively high crop-yields in 2000, most bottlings don't have the thick midpalate concentration of a really great, small-crop vintage like 1995. But the 2000s show good balance between ripe fruit, acidity and wood, and they should drink nicely on release and through the next 10 years.

I tasted dozens of barrel samples from 2001 and can confirm that the vintage should produce many silky, rich, delicious white Burgundies. I peg the overall vintage quality at 89-93 points, pending blind reviews of the bottled wines from all over the region.

While it is too early to say if the region holds another outstanding vintage in its cellars, one thing is clear. Burgundy has racked up a fine track record for Chardonnay in the six vintages of 1995 through 2000, with three very good vintages (1997, 1998, 1999; all 88 points), two outstanding ones (1995, 93 points; 2000, 90 points) and one classic (1996, 95 points). With this level of success and so many distinctive whites, this famous wine region deserves its reputation as the world's leader in fine Chardonnay.

Senior editor Per-Henrik Mansson is Wine Spectator's lead taster of white Burgundy.

Top-Scoring White Burgundies

Wine Score Price
 
VINCENT GIRARDIN Corton-Charlemagne 2000 96 $98
Powerful, with searing intensity and concentrated lemon, honey, wet earth, ripe fruit. Full-bodied, very long finish.
 
BOUCHARD PÈRE & FILS Meursault Perrières 2000 95 $68
Supersupple, silky yet lively, with great mineral grip and lots of ripe, sweet fruit. Long finish with smoky notes.
 
MARC COLIN Bâtard-Montrachet 2000 95 $350
Refined, with butter, mineral, wet pebble, plus vanilla bean and pear tart. Medium- to full-bodied, with a long, smoky finish.
 
VINCENT GIRARDIN Meursault Le Poruzot-Dessus Vieilles Vignes 2000 95 $61
Packed with ripe fruit and lively acidity. Full-bodied and balanced with honey, lemon, pear, tropical flavors.
 
DOMAINE DES COMTES LAFON Montrachet 1999 95 $395
Explosive, powerful white. Full-bodied, opulent, with toasted oak, caramel, mineral, tropical fruit and lots of smoky oak.
 
BOUCHARD PÈRE & FILS Corton-Charlemagne 2000 94 $100
Refined, full of chalky, minerally character, and full-bodied, with vanilla beans, pear tart and toasted oak. Silky finish.
 
BZIKOT PÈRE & FILS Puligny-Montrachet Les Folatières 2000 94 $50
Very smoky component along with the ripe, sweet fruit, mingling toasted bread, honey, mint, mineral. Caressing finish.
 
MARC COLIN Chevalier-Montrachet 2000 94 $165
Medium-bodied, clean and supple, with layers of mineral, lemon, toasted oak, mocha and spices. Amazing finish.
 
MARC COLIN Puligny-Montrachet La Garenne 2000 94 $65
Reticent in aroma, reserved, but what power from the midpalate on, a rocket of lime, ripe fruit, mineral, toasted oak.
 
WILLIAM FÈVRE Chablis Les Clos 2000 94 $61
Elegant, powering along with concentrated lime, kiwi, pineapple, dried herbs, freshly cut grass, spices. Long finish.
 
JEAN-NOËL GAGNARD Bâtard-Montrachet 1999 94 $140
Packed with fruit, showing lemon, dried apricot, nutmeg, cinnamon, fresh pear and dough. Silky midpalate, fresh finish.
 
DOMAINE LAROCHE Chablis Les Blanchots 1999 94 $94
Velvety, full-bodied, very ripe, with toasted oak, lemon, pear and smoke. Palate-caressing, round finish.
 
OLIVIER LEFLAIVE FRÈRES Meursault Charmes 2000 94 $57
Firm, tightly wound, with lots of ripe fruit. Full-bodied, with oak, acidity and pear-apple-pineapple lingering on the finish.
 
OLIVIER LEFLAIVE FRÈRES Meursault Les Perrières 2000 94 $70
Rich, toasted notes, but this full-bodied wine has ripe apricot, honey, pear, mango and pineapple in spades.
 
BERNARD MOREY Chassagne-Montrachet Les Macherelles 2000 94 $65
Flavorful and silky, with a clean character Ripe, also citrusy, medium-bodied, with a succulent, smoky finish.
 

Smart Buys in White Burgundy

Wine Score Price
 
JEAN-MARC BOILLOT Rully Meix Cadot 2000 90 $20
Full-bodied and ultraripe, exploding with vanilla, nutmeg, pineapple, mango, lime. Long, balanced finish with subtle oak.
 
CORDIER PÈRE & FILS Mâcon Aux Bois d'Allier 2000 90 $18
Opulent, but elegant. Full-bodied, silky, with cream, toast, honey and ripe fruit; lemony intensity on the finish.
 
JEAN-MARC BOILLOT Givry White Clos de la Brûlée 2000 89 $20
Fresh, ripe but focused fruit, with a touch of subtle oak. Medium-bodied, with a balanced, honeyed finish.
 
JEAN-MARC BOILLOT Rully La Pucelle 2000 89 $20
Big wine, multifaceted, with smoke, toasted, coconut, dried fig and apricot and pear tart character. Long, lemony finish.
 
LA CHABLISIENNE Chablis Cuvée L.C. 2000 89 $15
Exciting, with lime, spice and honey, like a refreshing, focused sorbet. Medium-bodied, bit tangy on the finish.
 
GEORGES DUBOEUF Pouilly-Fuissé Flower Label 1999 89 $18
Lemon, honey, smoke and mineral blend nicely. Medium-bodied, with intensity on the finish. Firm structure.
 
LES HÈRITIERS DU COMTE LAFON Mâcon-Villages Milly 1999 89 $18
Medium- to full-bodied, with intense lemon, mineral, butter and ripe fruit. Shows great terroir.
 
PASCAL BOUCHARD Chablis Vieilles Vignes Grande Réserve 2000 88 $16
Rich and ripe, with tropical, floral, coconut; tastes dry but smells of late-harvest. Finish of fruit sorbet, spice and toast.
 
J. MOREAU & FILS Chablis 2000 88 $14
Distinguished and lean, with clean fruit. Lemon and buttery character, with pear tart notes on the finish.
 

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