Oldies But Goldies: Bouchard Père 1892-2012


“Oldies but goldies” is a term commonly used in music vernacular. It is a sepia-tinged song from bygone days that retains its virtues and never grows old. Of course, the phrase means different things to different people depending on their age. Runaway by Del Shannon or Louie Louie by The Kingsmen fit the description for this writer. You’ll have yours. When it comes to wine, the term brings to mind bottles with decent mileage, not necessarily from the most prestigious vineyards or growers, nor the apotheosis of fermented grape juice. Yet, these wines warm the cockles of the heart and stand the test of time. What exactly confers longevity? Received wisdom is that it’s predicated by the most auspicious vineyards and/or winemakers, but experience confirms time and again that one factor overrides all others: provenance.

Provenance determines the end of a bottle’s mortal coil.

Notice the tell-tale, blue-tinged bottle of 1942, when glass was hard to come by and bottlers used whatever they could find.

A certain baker’s dozen poured one Friday night in November 2023 was of impeccable provenance since none had ever moved from the bins of Bouchard Père & Fils. They lay in their bins, oblivious to the tumultuous events of the last century, maturing out of sight in the damp and dark, wondering when, if ever, their martyrdom would come. A pre-prandial tour of the labyrinthine library cellar at Bouchard’s headquarters in Beaune confirmed that.

Among the particulars of the purchase through which Groupe Artémis added the Burgundy stalwart to a portfolio that includes Château Latour, Clos de Tart, Jacquesson, Eisele Vineyard and others is an almost priceless treasure trove of historic vintages stretching back to the 19th century. Bottles lay in their bins, oblivious to the tumultuous events of the last century, maturing out of sight in the damp and dark, wondering when, if ever, their martyrdom would come. Around a dozen English and French writers were invited for a dinner themed around vintages ending in two since it coincided without the 2022 barrel tastings. To my memory, it represented the first time I had broached several mature vintages from Bouchard Père together.

Not a well-known vintage, this 1972 Beaune acquitted itself well.

Readers will know that I always take a sober view of even the rarest or oldest wines, which is reflected in my notes and scores and, as always, I approached these wines with a blank sheet. With this in mind, I was deeply impressed by the quality throughout these wines that spanned 120 years. Yes, provenance must be taken into consideration. Yet the consistency was above my expectations, given the numerical straitjacket of vintages ending in the same digit, more intellectually stimulating than a beauty pageant of the most lauded growing seasons or auspicious vineyards. Only towards the end did quality trail off in perfectly acceptable fashion: the 1942 Beaune Les Teurons 1er Cru might have spent too long in barrel, often unavoidable for demob-happy bottles that struggled to sell in a weak post-war wine market. The 1892 Beaune-Grèves Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus is, of course, a privilege to taste since 19th century, pre-phylloxera Burgundy does not come around often. I feel that this is propped up more by provenance than intrinsic quality, even though undeniably, it deserves hearty applause for not just being drinkable but dispensing pleasure after more than twelve decades.

If there was one takeaway from this dinner, it was how we continue to undervalue the wines from the Beaune appellation.

The 1962 Beaune Clos de la Mousse 1er Cru and 1962 Beaune-Grèves Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus are utterly joyful, convincing me even more that this was a great vintage in the Côte d’Or (see my article on the 1962s). They might be pensioners, yet they are still going strong and improve in the glass. The only weak link is the magnum of 1962 Le Corton, though I suspect there are better bottles out there. The septet of whites is very consistent, bookended by highlights, the stunning 2012 Montrachet Grand Cru and my pick of the night, the delectable and quite profound 1952 Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru that shows the 1962 how it's done. Drinking these wines, I rue how premature oxidation has harmed the reputation of white Burgundy and lost legions of out-of-pocket wine lovers because when firing on all cylinders, nothing can touch it.

This 1952 Corton-Charlemagne was my own highlight from the evening’s vinous entertainment.

Readers can expect a tranche of more mature Burgundy, including more from Bouchard Père in the future. These deserved a standalone article because of their provenance and temporal connection. These bottles had been “oldies but goldies” and had met the prerequisites of warming the cockles of the heart and, for the most part, standing the test of time. They all captured a sense of a bygone era and had lost none of their charm. As I departed, I considered suggesting to Frédéric Engerer that they should repeat the exercise next year. Bottles themed along vintages ending in three? It would be impudent to ask. Instead, I thanked him for inviting yours truly to this enlightening soirée and trotted back to my rented apartment. In case he is reading this, my diary is clear next November.

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