Burgundy had a challenging year in 2008, with lots of rain all summer. Fortunately for vignerons, dry and sunny weather in late September rescued grapes that, according to Jancis Robinson, many were thinking of not even bothering to pick.
The cool temperatures throughout the year meant high acid levels, which might actually boost longevity. However, red wine producers in particular had a tough time getting their grapes ripe enough to deliver good fruit flavors.
Frederick Wildman & Sons, one of the top Burgundy importers in the U.S., brought barrel samples from 8 Burgundy producers to San Francisco this week for a preview tasting. Few of the wines are available right now, but they give a good snapshot of the vintage.
A few observations:
* Whites are generally better from '08 than reds.
* In particular, whites that are usually fleshy -- Puligny-Montrachets and Meursaults -- seem to benefit from the intense acidity. These wines are drinking well enough now but might continue to develop for a decade or more.
* The producer really, really matters in '08. Wines from Maison Olivier Leflaive in particular were strong across the board.
* Fabien Moreau (Domaine Christian Moreau winemaker) thinks Chablis actually had a good year in '08, with plenty of richness and good minerality. I didn't taste enough Chablis wines to comment, but I will stipulate that he knows more about it than I do.
* Some producers were able to make good village wines, but the ones I liked weren't cheap.
* Despite the world wine economy, '08 does not seem like a good year for bargain-hunting in Burgundy. I'll see if I can find a few at a much larger tasting next month, but in the meantime, if you're pre-ordering, don't stock up on the cheaper ones.
Before the tasting notes, a note on pricing: I only have the wholesale price in California, not suggested retail. I'm going to assume that wines will sell for about 1.5 times wholesale bottle (not case) price. Please be advised the prices I'm listing are estimates based on that.
Domaine Olivier Leflaive
This is winemaker Franck Grux's 19th vintage at Leflaive, and he is much more involved than the usual negociant. Rather than buying finished wines, Grux vinifies grapes himself from many appellations. The winery also owns 30 acres of vineyard in Puligny, Chassagne and other areas, giving them an unusual amount of control. In 2008, this was a huge advantage.
Domaine Olivier Leflaive "Les Setilles" Bourgogne Blanc 2008 ($20): Toasty with nice lime fruit and a short finish. Solid Tuesday night roast-chicken wine, if this is your price range. 89
Domaine Olivier Leflaive "Les Deux Rives" Chablis 2008 ($23): Lime fruit with scratchy minerality; a little sweet on the finish. 88
Domaine Olivier Leflaive "Rabource" Rully 1er Cru 2008 ($30): An interesting spice blend (white pepper, star anise) enlivens the lime fruit of this wine. I'd like to try it again in 2 or 3 years. 91
Domaine Olivier Leflaive "En Remilly" Saint Aubin 1er Cru 2008 ($37): Lime fruit but a little funky on the nose. Short finish. 87
Domaine Olivier Leflaive Chassagne-Montrachet 2008 ($49): Toasty and a little boozy, surprising for this vintage. 86
Domaine Olivier Leflaive "Clos Saint Marc" Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru 2008 ($80): Intense wine with lime fruit, eyewatering acidity, some peach notes and minerality on the long finish. Needs time to settle down, but very promising. 92
Domaine Olivier Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 2008 ($53): Ripe and fleshy, but balanced. Lime, peach and apricot fruit with intense acidity and minerality on the finish. Also needs some time, but could be a long-haul keeper. 94
Domaine Olivier Leflaive "Champ Gain" Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru 2008 ($92): Intense peach and lime fruit with pretty floral notes. Great acidity. The minerality feels like sand at the end of the finish. A wine that makes you pay attention. 96
Domaine Olivier Leflaive Meursault 2008 ($45): I know it's hard to see a $45 wine as a bargain, but this one is. It's mouthfilling, full-bodied and intense, with lemon-lime fruit and some peach, yet the great acidity of the vintage keeps it balanced. Wonderful wine, my favorite of the day. Should get even better with a little bottle age. 97
Domaine Olivier Leflaive Corton-Charlemagne 2008 ($150): Lime fruit with a floral note that intensifies. Soft finish. You can do better in this price range. 89
Domaine Armand Rousseau Pere & Fils
These are highly allocated wines, and this truly was a sneak preview as they won't be sold to retailers and restaurants until 2011. They're worth noting because as a group, these were the best red Burgundies I tried.
Domaine Armand Rousseau Gevrey Chambertin (NA): Dense cherry and raspberry fruit with a nice layer of spiciness, yet light-bodied and lively. 92
Domaine Armand Rousseau Clos de la Roche Grand Cru (NA): Cherry fruit with a leafy, herbal note and hits of spearmint. Light body, chewy tannins. 90
Domaine Armand Rousseau "Clos des Ruchottes" Ruchottes Chambertin Grand Cru (NA): Lovely cherry and pomegranate fruit with a black olive note; savory on the finish. Light-bodied and interesting already; who knows what flavors might develop over the next year? 94
Domaine Armand Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze Grand Cru (NA): Beautiful cherry fruit with some raspberry. Noticeable but well-managed tannins and a long finish. 93
Domaine Jacques Prieur
In 1997, winemaker Nadine Gublin (that's her in the photo) was the first woman elected Winemaker of the Year by the Revue du Vin de France. She believes that organic viticulture -- as well as the late warm spell -- helped save her crop in '08, because she watched the sugars rise before the flavors ripened. When she finally started picking on Sept. 28, she ordered the crews to finish in a hurry, and they did, picking the Pinot Noir first and the Chardonnay after -- which might account for the fact that at this point the whites are ahead of the reds.
Domaine Jacques Prieur "Champs Pimont" Beaune 1er Cru Blanc ($70): Tight, tingly acidity gives an edginess to the lime and white pepper flavors. 90
Domaine Jacques Prieur "Clos de Mazeray" Meursault ($85): Very toasty wine with nice lime fruit and lovely floral notes on the finish. 93
Domaine Jacques Prieur "Les Combettes" Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru ($133): Toasty, yet with plenty of lime fruit and acidity. Well-balanced. 90
Domaine Jacques Prieur "Champs Pimont" Beaune 1er Cru ($61): Cherry and raspberry fruit with floral hints. On the light side. 89
Domaine Jacques Prieur "Santenots" Volnay 1er Cru ($102): Tastes like Christmas, with cherry and red plum fruit and plenty of Christmas spices (allspice, clove, cinnamon). 92
Domaine Jacques Prieur Clos de Vougeot ($185): Strong, tannic, medium-bodied wine with decent cherry fruit, but hard to see it as value in this price range. 88
Domaine Jacques Prieur "Les Bressandes" Corton ($208): Pleasant enough raspberry fruit but it seems a little watery, especially for this price. 89
Domaine Christian Moreau Pere & Fils
Winemaker Fabien Moreau told both Stephen Tanzer and Allen Meadows that '08 was excellent for Chablis, with concentrated sugars and acidities for great richness and minerality. If he's right, and he might be, I might be scoring these wines a little on the low side, because good Chablis will definitely taste better 5 years from now. One thing is for sure -- these wines are not models of restraint.
Domaine Christian Moreau Chablis 2008 ($28): Surprisingly toasty for Chablis, with sharp initial acidity and lemon-lime fruit. Softer on the finish. 89
Domaine Christian Moreau "Vaillon" Chablis 1er Cru 2008 ($40): My favorite of this lineup, making it quite good value. Crisp, taut wine with lime fruit and limestone acidity, and a little peach and spice on the finish. 92
Domaine Christian Moreau "Vaudesir" Chablis Grand Cru 2008 ($75): Intense lime fruit is impressive, but the hot finish is a turnoff. 87
Domaine Christian Moreau "Valmur" Chablis Grand Cru 2008 ($75): Eyewatering acidity with plenty of bright lime fruit and a long finish. Put this away for 5 years at least. 91
Domaine Christian Moreau "Les Clos" Chablis Grand Cru 2008 ($75): Riper, fleshier lime fruit that's softer than the others. 88
Domaine Des Perdrix
One of the best properties of the Antonin Rodet empire, Perdrix has 25 acres of holdings in the Cote de Nuits.
Domaine Des Perdrix Nuits-St.-Georges 2008 ($80): Nice raspberry fruit with pleasant spiciness, but it fades rather quickly. 89
Domaine Des Perdrix "Aux Perdrix" Nuits-St.-Georges 1er Cru 2008 ($100): Again, nice cherry and raspberry fruit and spiciness, but a short finish for this price range. 90
Domaine Des Perdrix Echezaux 2008 ($208): Solid cherry fruit, medium body, with noticeable tannins. Fairly long finish. Should reward a few years in the cellar. 91
Chateau de Chamirey
The largest producer of white Mercurey has plenty of vineyards to choose from, and that's an advantage in a troublesome year like 2008.
Chateau de Chamirey Blanc 2008 ($34): This wine is all about the minerality and the balance, as the fruit is in the background to flavors of toast, anise and chalk, with floral notes on the finish. 91
Chateau de Chamirey "La Mission" Mercurey 1er Cru Blanc 2008 ($52): Initially toasty, then turns minerally and chalky, with some lime fruit. A model of restraint and balance. 90
Chateau de Chamirey Rouge 2008 ($34): Very bright and ripe raspberry, though a little sweet. 88
Potel-Aviron Cru Beaujolais
Unlike much of Beaujolais, winemaker Stephane Aviron eschews carbonic maceration in favor of traditional fermentation, just like the rest of Burgundy. He takes his wines seriously and you should too.
Potel-Aviron Beaujolais-Villages 2008 ($14): Lively raspberry and red currant flavors with savory notes on the finish. Very good value in a red that will go with fish and other typical white-wine foods. 89
Potel-Aviron Cote de Brouilly Vielles Vignes 2008 ($17): Very nice wine with raspberry fruit, floral notes and good tannic structure. 91
Potel-Aviron Julienas Vielles Vignes 2008 ($17): Red currant fruit, salty and tarry. 87
Potel-Aviron Fleurie Vielles Vignes 2008 ($22): Ripe red plum with some red currant and a hint of tar. Sticky tannins feel (but don't taste) like peanut butter on your tongue. 89
Potel-Aviron Morgon Cote du Py Vielles Vignes 2008 ($22): Spicy wine with nice lavender note, but tastes a bit leathery and prematurely old. 88
Potel-Aviron Moulin-a-Vent Vielles Vignes 2008 ($22): Excellent food-friendly wine with red plum and cherry fruit, some allspice and pepper. The medium body seems to lighten on the peppery finish. 91
Most wines from Pouilly-Fuisse are blends from different areas, but owner/winemaker Jean-Jacques Vincent prefers to highlight the terroir of individual regions. Even though I didn't love all of the wines, they are all very different, and that's interesting.
Chateau Fuisse "Les Combettes" Pouilly-Fuisse 2008 ($53): Chunky lemon fruit that's a little sweet. 87
Chateau Fuisse "Le Clos" Pouilly-Fuisse 2008 ($53): A little fat, this wine has lemon fruit but seems ungainly. 87
Chateau Fuisse "Les Brules" Pouilly-Fuisse 2008 ($53): Best of the lineup this year, this wine has strong minerality, restrained lime fruit and a focused finish. 91
Chateau Fuisse Pouilly-Fuisse Vielles Vignes 2008 ($53): Nice initial lime fruit and good minerality on the midpalate, but I don't love the sharp finish. Might soften with a year of bottle age. 88
A joint project of Antoine and Jean-Jacques Vincent, affordable wines made from purchased fruit -- but with control over the vinification that probably saved them in 2008. Good value.
JJ Bourgogne Blanc 2008 ($14): Simple lemon fruit with good acidity. Nice food wine at a good price. 88
"Marie Antoinette" Pouilly-Fuisse 2008 ($23): Well-balanced, restrained wine with nice lime fruit and good acidity. Good value. 89