Bouchard Père & Fils in profile – and recalling a magnificent 1961

Gently sloping vineyards, separated by some of the most charming villages that France has to offer, grace Burgundy’s myriad plots and micro climates, which yield such varied wines from the single grapes Pinot Noir for red and Chardonnay for white. Each time I go, I make it a point to discover a new domain, to meet the owner, to visit the cellar and the vineyard and to taste the wines.

With that in mind I am planning an #winelovers tour in September – stay tuned :-).

To get a bird’s eye view of a given vintage, visit a reputable maison de negoce, because they make wines covering many more appellations than most single domains can.

The ramparts of Château de Beaune

One of the very best maisons de negoce today is Bouchard Pere & Fils. Over time, by acquiring various terroirs, Bouchard Père & Fils boasts 130 hectares of vines, of which 12 are classed grand cru and 74 premier cru. Director Philippe Prost is as charming as he is informative. Over the years I have enjoyed tasting horizontals with him at the domain to get a sense of vintages from 2003 up to 2012 most recently, with wines from Montrachet, Corton-Charlemagne, Beaune Greves Vignes de l’Enfant Jésus, Bonnes-Mares, Meursault Perrières: names that “resonate with history” as the Bouchard website proclaims.

Furthermore a visit to Bouchard’s Château de Beaune – in the heart of Beaune – is essential. A former royal fortress built in the 15th century by King Louis XI, the château includes a vast under ground, naturally cold and humid cellar space.

In 1820 Bernard Bouchard purchased the château. Four of the five original towers of the fortress, as well as parts of the ramparts, still stand today and have been listed as historic monuments since 1937. The cellars run deep underground beneath the property providing ideal natural storage conditions for Bouchard Père & Fils’ large collection of wines.

Old bottles aging peacefully in the cellars

Stocked 10 meters deep, a unique collection of over 2,000 bottles from the 19th century along with more recent bottles age in ideal conditions. Thanks to their natural hygrometry and constant temperatures, the wines enjoy from youth an environment that is perfectly adapted to tranquil ageing. The oldest wine – a Meursault Charmes 1846 – still retains its luster, according to a recent tasting.

Recent Vintages

Of the last three vintages I have tried, 2010 shows the most harmonious balance while 2012 is richer in style. 2011 is the weakest.

2012: a success

I most recently tasted through a series of 2012s last year – and you can read about that tasting in this weblink. 2011 is not as successful a vintage – you can read my notes here on this page – but with a group of professional tasters and wine bloggers in Washington D.C., we discovered the superb quality of 2010, thanks to wines donated by Henriot for a dinner tasting held at Lavandou Restaurant, one of the friendliest BYOW bistros in Washington D.C.

2010: a great vintage 

Participants for the 2010 tasting included many D.C.-based Burgundy fans. Bloggers and wine writers included Aaron Nix-Gomez of Hogshead – A Wine Blog. Aaron wrote a fine feature on the tasting that I highly recommend. Also present was Christian Schiller, an active wine blogger (schiller-wine) too. Be sure to read his account of this Bouchard tasting.

Tasting with Philippe Prost at Bouchard

Tasting 2008 

The 2008 vintage has turned out to be better than some expected for the reds, and the whites are fulfilling their promise. Here notes from some whites tasted back in November 2009, followed by a vertical of Corton Charlemagne – and a magnificent dinner with 1961 and 1959… Read on! 

Meursault Les Clous: Very lively, vif, with Granny Smith apple flavors ; I get more verve from here than from the next wine.

Beaune du Chateau Blanc: More rounded on the nose and on the palate, although just a bit of sharpness on the finish – I prefer Les Clous.

Meursault Les Genevrieres: Freshness, minerality, nice flavor, good body, this wine is flinty with perhaps just a bit of heat on the finish.

Meursault Les Perrieres: At first it seemed to have some oak-derived notes, but only 15 percent new oak. Overall quite a lovely nose and palate, very expansive.

Chevalier Montrachet: Red apple, very deep and rich. Just a lovely wax-like feel on the palate if a touch sour – but over time this will develop nicely.

Chevalier Montrachet La Cabotte: Even more punchy. Hints of orange rind. Substantial palate, rich, a rounder nose. Strawberry aspect. Very pleasant. Cool.

Montrachet: Rather intense. Heavy. Closed on the palate. Some oak-derived notes. Later, so intense, so robust. Great substance on the palate, thick and rich. Butter like, but oh so subtle. A magnificent wine.

Corton Charlemagne: More airy on the nose and on the palate – so different from the above. Lighter, more “sprightly” aspect. Seems to lack the substance of the Montrachet, but still quite impressive and interesting to be the last one to taste.

An excellent 1990 Corton Charlemagne

Vertical of Corton Charlemagne

2007: Citrus aspect, tight and disciplined, very nice and too young of course. No batonnage in this vintage, Philippe Prost said. But rolling of barrels at the end of July – a kind of batonnage without oxygen contact, he explained. He explained that in fact there was more acidity in 2007 than in 2008, both tartric and malic, and that the malolactic fermentation was “easier” than in 2008. In 2008, after a longer-to-occur malolactic fermentation (“we had to wait for it”), the acidity levels were lower.

2005: More confit nose, a gingerbread aspect, then hazelnut and grilled nose/flavors (torrefaction). Some vague cinnamon as well with perhaps a hint of gun flint (I did not get the petrol which Philippe mentioned). Full-bodied, broad but also just lovely.

2002: Sweet licorice and nutmeg spice on the nose, the palate is very suave, matching richness with elegance, more subtle. Candied fruit, crystalline aspect, and a palate that shows ìcutî, backbone. Very impressive. Tighter than the above, showing more aging potential.

2000: Silex, pivoine, a hint of wet dog which turns more to earthy mushroom, pleasing, but perhaps just showing some evolution (certainly on a faster track than the 2002). Improves with time in glass, showing richness and conveying pleasure. “We had not yet experienced 2003, and were shocked by the low acidity of the 2000,” recalled Philippe. Did I feel some heat on the finish? Perhaps just a bit, but overall, I could easily drink this…

And here a blast from the past, and possibly the best Friday the 13th in terms of wine tasting – and wining and dining – because it showed how well Burgundies can age: both red and white.

It was back on 13 November 2009 at the Château de Bouchard where journalists and wine writers had just tasted the above 2008 vintage  wines followed  by the above vertical of Corton Charlemagne (2007, 2005, 2002 and 2000).  And then dinner with vintages stretching back to the 1950s.

A wine worth telling stories about

Over dinner: particularly memorable 1961 

1990 Corton Charlemagne. White pepper. The palate shows some nut notes, but so subtle and smooth. A truffle aspect as well. A fresh mineral aspect with a hint of sweetness. A Japanese journalist told me that it was not as fresh as the next wine, but a Dutch preferred the 1990 to the next wine! Go figure how palates vary, yes?

A golden color, with notes of white tobacco over time in glass. Very good backbone, an affirmed presence, with “bracing acidity,” said Michael Apstein of Wine Review Online, to my right. As much as I liked this wine, and I did enormously, it was overshadowed by the “sheer magnificence” of the next. But first, let’s talk about how well it paired with the foie gras and duck breast and fig? Even though dry, this wine had enough thickness and richness to match, just amazing.

Philippe Prost and a great 1959: will the 2009 evolve in this fashion?

1961 Corton Charlemagne. Brilliant freshness and zing for a wine almost 50 years old, white that is. Dry. A Camembert cheese nose, but just so subtle, combined with hazelnut, truffle. While the 1990 started to show pleasing toffee aspects, this wine over time showed off custard pie, white pepper like the 1990, but with light caramel and even more freshness, if you can believe it. But what impressed most was a sheer complexity on the nose and on the palate, which never got tired over the couple of hours à table. As I write these notes the next day, I am just tasting a bit of residual wine from the bottle which I was allowed to take with me as a souvenir. You guessed it, not tired. It still smells like what it did towards the end of the meal: a finely aged, top notch Cognac, but very dry and white wine on the palate. Unbelievable how long lasting this wine is, and a real revelation, quite comparable to the feeling I had when I discovered the Chateau díYquem 1967. Wine of the night, easily. The food match was very good: a delicious mix of scallops with autumn vegetables and a pumpkin cream whose sweetness was perfectly matched by the wineís richness. Lemon and ginger flavors in the food were also nicely matched by the vif in the wine, its lively qualities.

Another note: the vines of Bouchard are northeast, not the best situation. This wine must have been tight as a drum when young; it is just shining today.

1989 Le Corton. Violet aromas, primary fruit, cherry, but the palate is like a wild animal that needs to be calmed. Overall I had the impression that we were drinking this too young, but it was good, mind you, with plenty of that Burgundian earth on the palate, and I am talking smooth earth, not dirty earth by any stretch of the imagination. Certainly we have climbed down from the flavor peaks of the 1961, and I found the 1990 Corton Charlemagne also to be more complete than this red 1989, but it was very good stuff, with a lot going on ñ just perhaps not yet resolved. A fine match for the delicious range chicken with morilles mushrooms (a good echo for the wine) and a decadent enough for the delicious potato gratin: the sauce was savory, and I ate this quite quickly. Yum.

1959 Le Corton (from magnum). “Perhaps we should have decanted this,” said Philippe Prost. Perhaps. “They do not do that in Burgundy,” Michael joked. A 50-year old Pinot Noir and it sang. I thought I was getting brett, but more experienced tasters said there was none. If there was any, it was in such small amounts that it actually felt pleasing to me, and I am not a fan of brett in wine. In any case, this wine’s nose was far more interesting than the above: Michael and I had a shared “now you’re talking” moment when we first sniffed it. Over time, a distinct dark chocolate truffle aspect, and Philippe Prost said that comes from old Pinot Noir in a hot vintage like 1959. “We hope that the 2009 will become like this; we will be dead, but for a future generation,” commented French wine expert Michel Bettane to applause. I must say that this wine grew on me more and more: I found myself drinking more and more… I later wrote: chocolate mousse with pepper and Philippe Prost said “encre de Chine” And the palate was well structured and rich. The second best wine of the night, but still overshadowed by that amazing white 1961. The cheeses served were delicious. A deadly delicious and unctuous Brillat de Savarin, which I should avoid for waistline purposes, a savory Citeaux (Burgundy cheese) and a very good Comté.

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