My recent annual visit to Burgundy focused on the 2012 vintage. It was a challenging one for growers but, in the end, there are some lovely wines. I tasted more than 330 young reds and whites, mostly from barrel, although some wines had been racked from barrel and blended in tank for the bottling. In some cases, mostly whites, the wines had recently been bottled. All wines were tasted non-blind.
Appointments at Domaine Chanson and Maison Alex Gambal, on opposite sides of Beaune, allowed me to opt for the preferred mode of transportation: by foot! Part 2 considers the new vintage at Alex Gambal.
Though one-third of Maison Alex Gambal's production is from its own vineyards, 2012 was a challenge for this house
After a refreshing walk across town from Chanson Père & Fils, I found myself at négociant Alex Gambal's tasting bar. Since I have been visiting this address in 2004, Gambal has built up holdings of roughly 10 acres of vineyards through purchases and lease agreements. Maison Alex Gambal also buys the equivalent of 20 acres in grapes.
Overall, the volume of red Burgundy here is down by 10 percent compared with 2011 (itself a smaller-than-average crop), while there was 20 percent less white made in '12. Gambal said he lost the equivalent of one full harvest during the past three (2010, 2011 and 2012).
There is also no Latricières-Chambertin or Clos de Vougeot in 2012. The former's grapes weren't up to standard and in the latter's case, Gambal's source did not offer his grapes.
Four appellations in the lineup that included 11 reds and 13 whites had been bottled; the remainder were racked to tank to prepare for the bottling or, in the case of some reds, still in barrel and not yet racked.
Formerly labelled as Vieilles Vignes, the Savigny-lès-Beaune Grands Picotins (from tank) comes from 55-year-old vines from mostly domaine holdings (thus the focus on the lieu-dit), plus purchased grapes from a neighboring parcel. A slight reduction on the nose gives way to cherry, berry and spice flavors matched to a rich, fluid frame (87–90 points, non-blind). The Savigny-lès-Beaune 1er Cru (from tank) is a blend of Aux Guettes, Aux Gravains and Les Lavières. Its ripe, sweet currant and strawberry notes play off the silky texture and juicy, rich profile (88–91).
Beaune Grèves is on the austere side, with reticent cherry flavor yet great texture of silk, all very refined, ending in a mineral finish (89–92). This was also in tank.
The bright, sappy Chambolle-Musigny Aux Echanges (from tank) is bursting with raspberry fruit on a juicy, intense frame, finishing spicy and long (88–91). There's a distinctive old-vine sappiness in the Vosne-Romanée Vieilles Vignes (from barrel), whose cherry and currant notes are pure and fresh. Spice elements work their way into the mix and this shows lovely balance and fine length (88–91).
Moving north, I was impressed with the Gevrey-Chambertin, full of rich, cherry, tobacco and earth flavors on a dense, firm frame and long finish (89–92). Gambal made a Charmes-Chambertin in place of the Latricières, with grapes purchased from a source farmed organically. Sweet berry fruit expresses itself on a ripe, rich structure, yet it's elegantly wrought. It has fine grip, but it's the length that sells it (90–93). These were also still in barrel.
Among the whites, the Bourgogne and Fixin were bottled, the rest were in tank, having been racked in December 2013. The Fixin has been a staple in the range and a solid, occasionally outstanding version of a Côte de Nuits white. It typically shows breadth and power, yet there's always fine acidity and a mineral element. The 2012 is rich, almost fat, with pear and honey flavors, ample structure and a long finish (87–90).
The potentially outstanding Chassagne-Montrachet is a blend of three parcels from around the appellation: En l'Ormeau, Les Essarts and Blanchots Dessous. Honey, pastry, grapefruit and hints of lime blossom lead off, and this stays long and mouthfilling (88–91). The Meursault hails from two lieux-dits, Les Casses Tête, which is high on the slope, and Le Pré du Manche, a more protected site to the north of town, next to Le Cromin. It's a textbook Meursault, evoking floral, honey and peach notes, rich, but not heavy, with a nice underlying citrus element and fine length (89–92).
Meursault Clos du Cromin delivers a nose of flowers, lime, vanilla and toast on a rich frame, accented by spice and honey. Mouthfilling yet with good cut, there is a tactile finish (90–93). Opulent, even fat, the Meursault Genevrières saw 100 percent new oak since there was only one barrel (instead of the usual two). However, the oak was totally integrated, with great intensity to the honey, toast, hazelnut and pastry flavors matched to a graceful, harmonious structure (91–94).
Les Grands Champs and Les Petit Grands Champs are where the holdings of 60-year-old vines come from for the Puligny-Montrachet. It shows a terrific nose of ripe peach, spice, hazelnut and lime. On the palate, it starts out rich, then finishes racy and long, echoing lime. (88–91). In the second vintage of Puligny-Montrachet Les Enseignères since Gambal purchased it in 2011, there were just two barrels made rather than the normal six. It's rich, broad, opulent and very toasty, revealing pastry, lime and hazelnut flavors that come together on the long finish. (89–92).
The Chassagne-Montrachet La Maltroie boasted mineral and iron overtones, aligned with an intense, concentrated frame, with fine acidity and a lingering aftertaste (91–94). Always one of my favorites in the range, the St.-Aubin Les Murgers des Dents de Chien flexes its muscles with refinement and an underlying mineral essence to the lime, grapefruit, peach and spice flavors (89–92).
Even from the nose, the Corton-Charlemagne (just two-thirds of normal production in 2012) is different, more reserved and very focused, delivering citrus and stone notes with fine intensity, yet almost racy and airy on the long finish (92–95).
Gambal and his team made one-and-a-half barrels of Bâtard-Montrachet instead of the usual three from his parcels purchased along with the Les Enseignères. It's sleek with hazelnut, toast, pastry, floral, peach and citrus flavors. Almost more Chevalier than Bâtard, it unravels to a very long, smoky finish (91–94).