White Burgundy’s Twin Delights

The 2007 vintage will appeal to purists, while hedonists should pursue 2006
Bruce Sanderson
Posted: September 30, 2009

Fans of white Burgundy have plenty of delicious choices among the two outstanding vintages most recently released, 2006 and 2007. In addition, the two years are stylistically different from each other, so there’s something to suit every taste. The 2006s are rich and fleshy, with soft structures and open, inviting textures, while the 2007s are lean, taut, pure and focused.

“I thought ’06 would be better in quality, but now, tasting ’07, I think it might be even better, more elegant, fresh,” said Côte d’Or vintner Dominique Lafon when I visited him earlier this year.

Since my last report (“Burgundy’s Triple Crown,” Sept. 30, 2008), I have blind-tasted nearly 550 white Burgundies in Wine Spectator’s New York office, 175 of them from the 2007 vintage. With an overall rating of 92 points on the Wine Spectator 100-point scale, 2007 is the fourth outstanding vintage in a row for the category. The 2006 vintage is very close in quality, at 91 points. (An alphabetical list of all wines tasted for this report is available at www.winespectator.com/093009.)

The downside is that the wines are expensive. In these difficult economic times, with wine drinkers willing to spend less per bottle on average, even the best Chardonnays from Burgundy are languishing on retail shelves.

As demand has slackened and stocks have backed up, the 2007s are arriving in the United States more slowly than have previous vintages. It pays to search the market thoroughly—savvy consumers may find more competitive prices as wholesalers and retailers try to reduce inventories. Prices for some 2006s have decreased at retail, and the newer vintage may eventually follow suit.

The contrast in wine styles between the two vintages reflects the weather patterns during their respective growing seasons. Rapid ripening and an attack of botrytis in some areas necessitated harvesting on the early side in 2006. Vintners who waited too long produced wines that can be soft, heavy and, in the worst scenarios, oxidized.

Despite a precocious start to the 2007 season with hot weather in April, the summer was cool and rainy. As a result, growers had to wait for the Chardonnay to ripen sufficiently. Picking late was the key. Those who panicked and harvested early made underripe whites, with green, bitter flavors. Still, the vintage has a slight edge over its predecessor because it was more consistent across all the regions, from Chablis in the north to the Mâconnais in the south.

The best 2007s tasted to date offer sleek, mineral-infused profiles and good aging potential. Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey made a stunning range of 2007s, led by the tightly wound, complex Chevalier-Montrachet (97 points, $338), a well of tropical fruit, lime, juniper, mineral and wood smoke allied to a racy frame. His Bâtard-Montrachet (95, $315) shows more body, with lemon, stone, apple and spice aromas and flavors and a creamy texture. Of the 11 Colin-Morey wines in this report, 10 rate 90 or more points. The best value among them is the elegant St.-Aubin Les Champlots (91, $48), which exhibits notes of flowers, green fruits and stone.

The 2007s from Bouchard Père & Fils are also beautiful. At the top of the list is its Chevalier-Montrachet Domaine (94, $328), with a vibrant structure and a creamy texture framing its lime, peach, quince and chalk flavors. A pair of Corton-Charlemagnes, one from Champy (92, $180) and one from Jean Chartron (92, $175), combine the precision and purity of the vintage with the stony essence of this hillside terroir.

If your tastes run to richer, opulent, more approachable whites, try the fleshier 2006s. The Ramonet Bâtard-Montrachet (96,
$165) is an expressive style, featuring aromas and flavors of hazelnut, lime, white flowers, peach, spice and mineral. The Chevalier-Montrachet Les Demoiselles from Louis Jadot is both powerful and elegant (95, $320), while the Domaine Leflaive Bâtard-Montrachet (95, $451), a solid and compact white now, shows concentrated chalk, butter and apricot notes.

For those on a tighter budget, the best bang for the buck currently comes from the Mâconnais. Look for wines such as Catherine & Pascal Rollet’s Mâcon-Solutré-Pouilly Domaine de la Chapelle 2007 (90, $19), which is racy and linear in profile yet packed with lemon, apple and mineral flavors, or Corinne & Thierry Drouin’s Mâcon-Vergisson La Roche 2007 (89, $20), delivering deep peach, pear, vanilla and clove notes matched to a vibrant structure. From neighboring St.-Véran, the Domaine Thomas Cuvée Prestige 2007 (89, $28) is a little pricier, but shows appealing peach, apple, citrus and mineral flavors, along with freshness and refinement.

Other bottles to look for include the supple Vincent Girardin Mâcon-Fuissé Les Vieilles Vignes 2007 (88, $25); the fresh, appley Dominique Cornin Mâcon-Chânes Serreudières 2007 (88, $23); the mineral-infused Mâcon–La Roche Vineuse 2007 (88, $19) from Alain Normand; and the Domaine des Verchères Mâcon-Villages 2007 (88, $14), with rich orchard and citrus fruit.

Chablis also offers some good values at the village level. Try either the 2006 (89, $25) or 2007 (88, $24) bottlings from Christian Moreau Père & Fils. The ’07 is fresh, with mineral notes, while the ’06 captures the Chablis character in a warmer year. The Château de Maligny Chablis 2006 (88, $24) combines richness with oyster shell and iodine flavors, and the Servin Chablis Première Cuvée Les Pargues 2007 (88, $24) has lemon and mineral notes at its core.

“After two very ripe vintages, 2007 is a return to a style like 2004, with freshness and minerality,” says Fabien Moreau, the winemaker and fils of Christian Moreau Père & Fils.

I have often touted Marsannay as a source for well-priced Pinot Noir, yet it can be a go-to region for Chardonnay values as well. The Huguenot Père & Fils Marsannay White 2006 (88, $20), with its muscular frame and apple, butterscotch and spice aromas and flavors, delivers proof.

In both the 2006 and 2007 vintages, the key periods of the growing season were the flowering of the vines and the final weeks of ripening in September.

With the flowering coming three to four weeks earlier than normal in 2007, the season was quick and homogeneous at first, leading growers to think about another August harvest.

Yet cool, wet weather in June, July and August slowed the ripening, and, in the end, only growers with the patience to harvest late gained the necessary ripeness. A north wind brought sunny but cool weather in September, causing acidity levels to remain high in the grapes, particularly the malic acid. The conversion of malic to lactic acid was late, and the ensuing wines have a purity and tautness in structure.

“It’s a year that was very late, even though there was a lot of heat early,” says Pierre Morey, who makes wines under Domaine Pierre Morey and the négociant label Morey-Blanc. “The summer was cool, and we needed the long days in September to ripen completely. The cool weather in June, July and August preserved the acidity, which is the ‘vital force,’ the spine of the vintage.”

In 2006, the weather was cold leading up to the flowering. When it did occur, later than usual, it was also fairly quick for the Chardonnay. July was hot and dry, and August cool and wet. Nonetheless, ripening occurred quickly and sugar levels soared rapidly after rain in the Côte de Beaune on Sept. 15.

The rain also fostered an attack of botrytis, especially in the flatter, less well-drained vineyards, making it necessary to harvest early and in haste. This is what gives some 2006s their signature flesh and exotic fruit flavors.

But whether you prefer the plumper, fleshier style of 2006 or the more linear, austere and mineral-laced 2007s, the white Burgundies currently available will satisfy. Or, buy some of both vintages—the more approachable ’06s can be enjoyed while you give the ’07s the time they need to reveal their complexity and balance. Just shop around carefully to find the best price.

Senior editor Bruce Sanderson is Wine Spectator’s lead taster on the wines of Burgundy.

 

 

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