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Not Bad – Just Different … 2003

By Peter | May 6, 2009

On the train to London (yet again) I couldn’t help feeling a little guilty. Family life had been turned upside down again for mere wine. But this truly was unmissable – an opportunity to revisit a goodly sized sample of the very best wines from one of the most contentious Burgundy vintages in recent years. We tasted through 25 wines, all of which had been brought along by the participants from their private cellars … in other words these were the 2003s that the ‘Burgundy cognoscenti’ had put their hands into their wallets for.

A fine selection of 2003 Burgundies

Perhaps this is therefore a biased sample, but it did demonstrate two things absolutely clearly:

– None of these wise men bought many 2003 whites, and even when they did they are already looking disjointed and unbalanced

– The reds – at the top level – are much better balanced and better drinking than is generally believed.

2003 was a wild year for the vignerons, commencing with severe frosts shortly after budbreak, and culminating in a heatwave of epic proportions. In case you missed it, August 2003 saw temperatures over 40 C, with heat related deaths across France (and the UK). According to the vintage report in Burghound this was the hottest vintage since 1523 !

The resulting harvest was a small crop of small, thick-skinned berries. There was no problem with sugar (and hence alcohol) levels, but acidity levels were dropping fast when the Ban de Vendange was announced in mid-August. Growers had to decide whether to pick early and retain acidity or hold on for proper ‘phenolic’ ripeness (ie ripeness of the entire fruit, including pips and stalks) and pick late. Of course, late in this vintage was still only the beginning of September, perhaps 2 weeks earlier than a ‘normal’ harvest.

So, the scene is set for a vintage of high alcohol, high tannin, deep coloured wines veering towards the baked. However, it didn’t always turn out this way. Most good growers exercised a very light touch in the cellar, and often bottled early to preserve freshness. Also, in a bizarre turn of events, many growers reported seeing the acidity of the wine increase during fermentation.

The end result – when everything was handled well – proved to be surprisingly pleasing. The wines are not “beacons of terrorir”, but the best show lovely definition and typical terroir character, albeit on a larger and riper frame than usual. Only a handful of the wines tasted showed any stewed, jammy or baked character and alcohol levels were almost never intrusive.

The big surprise for me was that the wines were so open – at this stage of evolution Burgundy is often rather hard and charmless. I’m certain that the well-balanced wines will continue to drink well for at least another 5 years. After that – who knows !

To finish, we should revisit the title of this piece, and the words of Philippe Engel (R.I.P.) quoted by Allen Meadows:

“Overall, 2003 is certainly not typical but the wines are actually quite good, just different.”

The following wines were tasted in London in April. Scores, as ever, out of 5:
1 Correct wine – no faults but no interest either
2 Decent wine, some interesting qualities but overall not sufficient quality & balance
3 Good wine, basically well balanced and offering some real interest and quality
4 A very good wine – exceeds expectations for its context (appellation/price)
5 Outstanding wine by any standard

Domaine William Fevre, Chablis GC Bougros “Cote de Bouguerots”

Big buxom and nutty with a hint of lard and a little greengage fruit. Quite voluptuous, nutty oak and ripe pear fruit. Acidic without being fresh. 2+

Domaine Dauvissat-Camus, Chablis 1er Forest

Nice ripe green orchard fruit. Quite sturdy nose. Nice spicy lightness on the top though. Smooth and buttery – an acidic edge to it, but not really fresh. A little oily too and a bitter edge on the finish. 2+

Domaine Francoise Jobard Meursault 1er Genevrieres

Not showing much on the nose, and yet comes across as a little loose in character. Spicy and a little buttery, but not really fruity. With air becomes a little oaky and alcoholic. Quite full and creamy, some minerality, but not really any interest. A bit hot on the finish too. Better than the two Chablis, but only just. 3-

Domaine Jean Noel Gagnard, Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru Caillerets

Very ripe pear, lifted with baking spices and a nice seam of oak. Smooth and round, lots of class here but not a lot of freshness. A natural and intense feel – good minerality and a twist of lime. Finishes firm and just a little hot. Good, and an honest interpretation of the vintage. 3

Domaine Vincent Girardin Santenay 1er Les Gravieres

Full colour. Ripe, plummy dark and oaky. Nice lift to it. Round and voluptuous cherry fruit but quite sweet – bordering on the jammy. Well balanced with very refined tannins, just lacks a little freshness and excitement. 3-

Domaine Jean-Marc Pavelot Savigny 1er La Dominode

Medium purplish cherry red. Nice perfume – quite delicate and fragrant. Clean fresh and pure – just with a slight bubblegum edge to it. Lovely flair and definition. Good balance. 3+

Domaine De Montille Beaune 1er Cru Sizies

Deep plummy red, but quite broad paler rim. Lovely earthy, fragrant, savoury nose. Very good. Smooth and very well composed. Nice freshness too. Good intensity, and yet with a lightness of touch. A little dark-toned on the finish but otherwise excellent. 4-

Domaine Jean Grivot, NSG 1er Cru Les Boudots

Very deep plummy red. Narrow rim. Deep, intense, and spicily perfumed nose. Remarkably “Boudots” for the vintage : this is almost Vosne like, but meaty and a touch rustic. Broad and rich, with leafy elements, and very tannic underneath. Dense and long on the finish. This has potential, but lacks freshness today. 3+

Domaine Henri Gouges, NSG 1er Cru Les St Georges

Very deep blood/plum. Dense deep and dark, but a gorgeous perfume. Quite entrancing. Big and bold mouth entry. Very ripe though – almost a bit stewed in character. Rather dry tannins on the finish. Quite impressive but lacks finesse. 3

Domaine Robert Arnoux, Vosne Romanee 1er Cru Les Chaumes

Deep cherry/blood. Quite closed nose. Plummy, just a touch metallic too, but not giving much up, Smooth sweet cherry fruit on the mouth entry. Seamless, and with good freshness. Oak evident on the mid-palate. Well balanced and very satisfying, but lacks presence on the finish. 3+

Domaine Ghislaine Barthod, Chambolle Musigny 1er Les Charmes

Medium-full colour. Broad spicy nose – even a touch of bacon fat. Not very Chambolle. Mouth entry quite lush, but soft and gentle, even unfocused. Quite spicy and tannic too. ‘Soupy’ but with a hard finish. Not convincing. 3-

Domaine Hudelot-Noellot, Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru Les Charmes

Medium-full colour. Lovely perfume impact : spicy and earthy, and with great finesse. Smooth and supple in the mouth, but rather soft and loose. Nice flair, but again lacks freshness. Good for the vintage though. 3+

Domaine Rene Engel, Grands Echezeaux GC

Quite full colour. Lovely full and spicy nose. Perfect Grands Echezeaux – meaty and luscious, slightly gamey and sturdy without being at all rustic. Round and plummy. Just slightly loose, but very finely honed and with real freshness on the finish. 4+

Domaine Rene Engel, Clos Vougeot GC

Medium-full colour. Firm, meaty, sturdy, slightly gamey nose. Just a touch of truffle too. Smooth, supple and full in the mouth, yet with good freshness, Not the greatest finesse, but lovely balance and flavour profile. Super, long, finish again shows real freshness. A great success. 4+

Domaine Joseph Roty, Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Fontenys

Full colour. Dark, chocolatey, and ripely fruited. Lovely and plummy and quite fresh, with a real meatiness underneath. Round and supple and not too heavy in the mouth, but just a little loose. Nice earthy touch and great length. Very successful. 4-

Drouhin Laroze, Chapelle Chambertin GC

Medium purplish ruby. Robust, earthy and sweet toned. Quite charming. Smooth and voluptuous mouth entry. Nice freshness too. Very well poised, no hard edges at all, but the tannins are a touch bitter. Really quite good, just lacks a bit of energy and class. 3+

Domaine Armand Rousseau, Clos De La Roche GC

Quite full colour. Lovely earthy, dark cherry fruit, with a real feral edge to it. Smooth and supple, sweet and slightly estery. Lovely full body and perfectly refined tannins. Superb winemaking, but ultimately its just all too smooth, and doesn’t excite me. Plus there’s that worrying estery note. 3+

Domaine Fourrier, Gevrey-Chamberten 1er Cru Clos St Jacques

Very full colour. Super nose – spicy and ethereal nose, with a lovely touch of freshly turned earth. Great finesse. Mouth entry is soft, silky, insinuating and voluptuous. Nice freshness, but a little too much alcohol. Finishes long and balanced, but just a touch candied. Very impressive. 4+

Maison Louis Jadot, Gevrey-Chamberten 1er Cru Clos St Jacques

Medium full. Lovely firm, spicy nose. Very Gevrey and very classy, with a meaty undertow. Lovely, perfectly poised mouth entry : fullish, spicy and with a touch of sousbois. Really good long fresh finish. Just delightful. All the finesse and beauty of the Fourrier, but just backed off on the throttle a touch, and all the better for it. 5-

Domaine Armand Rousseau, Gevrey-Chamberten 1er Cru Clos St Jacques

Mid red. Very firm and taut nose. Spicy, but not showing much more – perhaps a bit closed today ? Very supple and easy in the mouth – almost strikes me as not being like Burgundy. Full and firm but lacks character. A good wine though, and worth re-tasting in a few years. 4

Domaines Georges Mugneret et Mugneret-Gibourg, Ruchottes Chambertin GC

Quite full colour. Smooth and lusciously silky in the mouth, this seems more earthy than mineral. Very composed : cool and fresh and no lack of balance. Lovely drinking, but just lacks flair and precision. 4

Domaine Armand Rousseau, Ruchottes Chambertin GC

Medium-full colour. Quite closed nose. Silky smooth mouth entry … even bordering on bland. Nice rich mineral core though. Good strong finish, just a touch bitter on the tannins. 4

Pascal Lachaux, Griottes Chambertin GC

Very full red. Nose is rather light and sweet with a herbal edge and cherry fruit. Quite charming. Very nicely poised mouth entry – cool and fresh with ??? ripe fruit and a touch of earthiness. Super balance and very refined. Long and slightly warm on the finish, and the tannins just a touch drying. 4-

Domaine Armand Rousseau, Chambertin Clos de Beze GC

Full colour. Deep, intense nose with beautiful, earth-driven fruit. Fabulous concentration. Mouth entry is quite full and slightly candied. Rather big and heavy but great intensity. Not an easy wine but very impressive. Very long finish shows superb balance. 5-

Mommessin, Clos De Tart GC

Very, very, deep colour. Really very subdued on the nose : just a touch of licorice showing, Mouth entry is sweet, big and impressive. There is heaps of extract, but also bucketloads of heat. A wall of tannin, and dense, dark fruits. Great length, fullness and balance on the finish. Just isn’t together today (probably needs aother 10 years). Could well turn out on the upside of this score. 4+

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