Archive Away: Mature Burgundies 1919-2019


It is time to gather my diaspora of Burgundy tasting notes into a single article. You can easily lose track of the countless jottings inside Pinot-dappled notebooks, random Word files clogging your hard drive, stacks of menus graffitied in spidery handwriting and scores. They can easily be mislaid, and then all that will exist is your fading memory. These bottles were imbibed over the previous year from New York to London via Tokyo, amongst groups of wine-lovers, or just a cheeky glass in front of the gogglebox at home. It is an eclectic array of vintages, growers and appellations, and yet it is vital to remember that they are all fundamentally variations of fermented grape juice, however much prices might persuade you otherwise. Eagle-eyed readers may also spot one or two interlopers from Germany and Alsace that were poured at Burgundy tastings. Hey, they need homes too.

There are a couple of themes that I wish to highlight.

Many of the notes come from my weeks spent tasting from barrel in the Côte d’Or during October/November, including a couple of La Paulées where guests raided their cellars and opened some extraordinary bottles. One gentleman poured no less than the 2005 Romanée-Conti and served it from magnum to ensure everyone had a decent pour. You will find other spectacular bottles, such as the 2010 Montrachet from Domaine Ramonet, the 1986 Richebourg from Domaine Méo-Camuzet, and, away from the Côte d’Or, the 1975 Riesling Clos Ste. Hune. Though I appreciate these wines and, of course, the chance to drink them, it is the esoterica that holds the most interest. For example, the 1978 Corton Clos des Fietres Grand Cru from Voarick or the outstanding 1949 Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses from Nicolas Arnaud, presumably an old and defunct négociant. These are wines that you are never going to drink again, and there is a duty to record them and mark their existence for posterity, irrespective of their sensory attributes.

Another notable and insightful tasting took place in Hong Kong last September. This was to showcase the appellation of Meursault courtesy of various growers, some of whom I had not tasted previously. There were a couple of disappointing showings; Roulot had a bad day with a couple of flawed bottles, though this tasting showcased the quality of Domaine Henri Germain. As the tasting reached its denouement, up trotted three 2005s from Jean-François Coche-Dury… Game over. Sure, secondary market prices are crazy and multiples of ex-Domaine prices, yet unequivocally, these were in a different league.

You will find a small but useful cachet of 1999 Burgundies, nearly all of which were poured at a themed dinner at Lorne restaurant in Pimlico last March. That evening was emblematic of where Burgundy finds itself. Let me explain…

The evening was hosted by a long-time friend, a fine chap and fully paid-up oenophile that has bought wine most of his adult life, long before it became a speculative asset. He was blithely buying blue chips long before they turned blue and accrued an enviable collection of top names, not to make money, but to drink. He is no millionaire, earns an average wage and, like swathes of people, is gradually priced out of a region he loves. Being passionate about Burgundy is no longer sufficient – you need money. Perhaps that is the kind of consumer at least some of its winemakers covet? That’s a discussion for another day, but the long and short of it is that he has a stash of top-notch Burgundy that he can ill-afford to replace. So, what to do?

A small flotilla of 1999 Burgundy at Lorne.

Flog it at auction? The proceeds would surely make an enormous difference.

Instead, he organizes three dinners themed around the 1999 vintage and shares the wines with his mates, including bottles and gems from Roumier and Engel. At one point during the dinner, a guest asks the inevitable…

“Do you realize what you could have sold these for?”

Our host scoffs at the idea. The satisfaction of a far healthier bank balance would pale against the satisfaction of sharing these wines with friends.

A lesson to us all.

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