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Evading the Burgundy Mines in Bordeaux

Posted: May 10, 2007 12:37pm ET

I had a couple of dinners with some friends from Hong Kong in Bordeaux. And not only was some of the food great but the wines were superb as well. They had brought dozens of fantastic bottles of Burgundy from their cellars in England to share with the Bordelais. And the wines included numerous reds from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and great white grands crus. Plus, they threw in a number of bottles of Château Rayas, the legendary Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

A number of château owners and winemakers attended the dinners and they were very pleased to drink the Burgundies and Rhône. The bottom line is that great winemakers love great wines, no matter where they are from. And, of course, Burgundy is la France. So more the reason for the Bordelais to enjoy them. I must add that all the Frenchmen wanted to party to celebrate the recent election. They look forward to a positive change in France as well as improved relations with America, but that’s not something to really go on about in this blog.

Nonetheless, I have to say that drinking Burgundy, even great Burgundy, can be like walking through a minefield, with bad bottles being the proverbial mine waiting to go off. We hit a number over the course of three nights. For example, we were at dinner in Bordeaux at one of my favorite hearty food bistros on earth, La Tupina. And we hit nasty mines. Ouch!

My friends invited the Thienponts from Le Pin and Vieux-Château-Certan and they served some amazing Burgundies at dinner including Michel Niellon Bâtard-Montrachet 1997, Jean-Noël Gagnard Bâtard-Montrachet 1996, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Echézeaux 1995 and 1990, and Emmanuel Rouget Echézeaux 1995. Plus, we drank Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Réservé 1990 and 1978. What a lineup!

The Gagnard Bâtard-Montrachet was sublime, with wonderful aromas of vanilla, cream, pineapple and honey that followed through to a full-bodied palate, with fresh acidity and a creamy texture. It went on and on in the mouth. What a wine. 97 points (non-blind). The Niellon was a bit dull by comparison, almost flat, with some nutty, pineapple character, medium body and a light finish. Disappointing really. 87 points. That was a small mine explosion because I was expecting a lot out of it.

Then came real blasts. The 1995 Rouget was really earthy and funky with a smelly animal character. I gave it a mercy 85. The 1995 DRC was a little bubbly and funky. Two bottles were the same. One of the bottles of the 1990 DRC was corked, but finally the second one was superb, with wonderful flower, berry, cherry and light spice character and a full, long and velvety palate. What a wine. 96 points.

The two Rayas were great. I preferred the 1978 to the 1990. No surprise there. The 1990 was a bit funky and earth, more than I would expect in a top Châteauneuf, but there was lots of rich fruit with loads of plum and cherry character on the nose and palate. It was full-bodied and long but slightly one-dimensional. 90 points. By comparison, the 1978 was multilayered with fabulous aromas of flowers, cherries and berries, with a full body, loads of velvety tannins and a fresh, bright finish. What class. 96 points.

Alexandre Thienpont, the winemaker of VCC as well as Le Pin, was a bit surprised with the bad bottles of Burgundy. I guess he wasn’t used to what I call the Burgundy Minefield that many of us have grown accoustomed to. “We could never get away with that here in Bordeaux,” Thienpont said. “It’s amazing how tolerant consumers are with Burgundy.”

But I explained to him that it’s bottles like the 1990 DRC Echézeaux that keep you coming back for more. And he had to agree. With that, he ordered a couple of bottles of Bordeaux off the list since he couldn’t bear only drinking Pinot that night, a 2000 VCC and 2001 Trotanoy. They were both outstanding. The VCC was a little more concentrated, as it should be, but both showed wonderful precision and fine layered tannins. I loved the violet, berry and chocolate character. They were so, so clean and focused. But they obviously needed more bottle age. 95 and 92 points, respectively.

Did I prefer the Burgundies (those that weren't the evening’s mines)? It’s a cliché, but it is like comparing blondes to brunettes or Porsches and Ferraris, or …

Stayed tuned tomorrow to see if there were any mines at a mega-Burgundy dinner at Les Sources de Caudalie. But one of the greatest bottles on earth was drunk: 1990 DRC La Tâche.

Evandro Pereira
Sao Paulo —  May 10, 2007 11:24pm ET
james, just reas this comment as I drank a bottle of Chambolle Les Amoureseuses 1985 from Georges de Vogue. I am a big fan of Bordeaux< especially older vintages, but I have to say it is difficult to remind anything better I have ever drunk in my life...
Matthew Habdas
connecticut —  May 11, 2007 3:29am ET
James, way off topic, but I just picked up a bottle of '97 Solaia. Ready to go or give it some more time?
James Suckling
 —  May 11, 2007 3:36am ET
Matthew: I haven't had it in about a year. But I thought it was just about ready to go. I would decant it for an hour or two before. Let me know how it is...
Riccardo Campinoti
May 11, 2007 11:46am ET
Good to hear about the Gagnard. I have a bottle of 1990 that was given to me for my high school graduation. I guess it's time to pop it open
Daniel Moritz
New York, NY —  May 11, 2007 2:19pm ET
James, my wife and I are staying at Les Sources de Caudalie in October, and I am curious how the food is there. I'd love to hear your feedback. Additionally, we just confirmed an appointment to visit Alexandre at VCC, which we are very excited about. Your notes on his wines have only added to the excitement.
Joseph Byrne
Gardiner NY —  May 12, 2007 10:21am ET
James, You said the 1990 DRC was corked and what caused the flaws for the others you mentioned?Like you said before about cork "But I get very sad when they don't come through. The wine industry is addressing this." Not many folks have the freedom to open multiple bottles until they find a good one. Your job I can imagine can be quite tough, but being able to open multiple very expensive bottles is definetly a plus. Thanks Joe
Bernard J Finnegan
Alameda, CA, USA —  May 13, 2007 8:45pm ET
Off topic, to a degree, I picked up 2 2000 Chateau Siran and was wondering if you would recommend when to open. I have a limited budget and have to trust my wine guru on purchases
James Suckling
 —  May 14, 2007 2:25am ET
Bernard. If I owned the bottles, I would try them in two or three years. If I couldn't wait, I would decant them two hours before serving. What did you pay?

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