The 2009 White Burgundies

by Antonio Galloni

The 2009 harvest yielded a large number of delicious white Burgundies, many of which will drink beautifully with virtually no cellaring. As with the reds, the sweet spot is in the less prestigious appellations, where the sun and warmth of the year helped flesh out the wines to a greater degree than is often the case. In particular, I was struck by the large number of terrific wines I tasted from St. Aubin. On a slightly more cautious note, though, the 2009s will require a selective hand. There is quite a bit more variability in the whites than the reds in 2009. I suspect much of that is because in a warm vintage the choice of harvest date is especially critical, and has the potential to mark Chardonnay to a far greater extent than Pinot Noir.

By now, most people know that 2009 was a warm, sunny vintage in Burgundy. Temperatures were warmer than normal pretty much throughout the year, although sunlight was quite a bit higher than normal, and it is that luminosity that gives to many wines a certain radiance that is very 2009. Temperatures rose again in August, and the harvest took place roughly 10-15 days earlier than normal. Of the estates I visited, the first to harvest was Remi Jobard on September 1st and the last to harvest was Remoissenet, who picked as late as September 27. At the same time, I tasted a number of wines that were picked very early and that are unusually bright to the point they show little vintage character. That may or may not be a good thing, depending on your point of view. All of this means that readers will find everything in 2009; from crisp, floral whites to fleshy, ripe wines all the way to breathtaking Burgundies that capture the fullest essence of their respective sites and everything in between.

The villages level wines are particularly strong in 2009. Much of the same can be said about Bourgognes. The best of those wines will deliver fabulous drinking at prices that won’t put a huge dent in the bank account. I hope readers will spend time looking at some of the lesser-known villages in the Côte de Beaune. As mentioned above, St. Aubin did exceptionally well in 2009. I also tasted a number of delicious wines from the Côte Chalonnaise. While not enough to be a truly representative sample, my instincts suggest that at least several villages in the Côte Chalonnaise are well worth investigating.

On Drinking Windows

I have kept drinking windows very much on the conservative side. I have no doubt many if not most wines in this article may need more time than my notes suggest, but given all of the issues surrounding premature oxidation the only prudent recommendation I can give readers is to check in on these wines regularly. The greatest, most moving experiences I have had with wine have often been in front of a bottle of aged white Burgundy. It is deeply saddening to think that these moments are increasingly becoming harder to experience, but such is the reality of the situation. In a warm, radiant vintage such as 2009, most wines will drink well right out of the gate, and while a few may have the stuffing to develop gracefully for years, I would not be stashing away huge quantities of wine without having the ability to follow the wines on a regular basis.

A First Look at 2010

I had hoped to taste more 2010s during my June trip, but unfortunately many wines were still finishing their malos. Unlike Chablis, where the use of commercial yeasts and bacteria are widespread, most quality growers in the Côte de Beaune work with natural yeasts, which also tends to draw out the malos. The 2010s I tasted, though, are very exciting. Readers will find those notes here. An irregular flowering reduced the crop and served to concentrate the energy of the vines on a lower crop load. At the same time, the long, cold growing season gave the fruit considerable acidity. This is going to be a fascinating vintage to follow. Right now, I am very optimistic on the 2010s.

Some Thoughts on Shipping

I have often commented in these pages that Champagne is the most fragile wine in the world, but that is not quite accurate. White Burgundy is just as fragile. During my trip to Burgundy in late June temperatures were quite warm most of the time, but on two days in particular they reached the high 90s. The following day one of the growers I visited was loading wine into a truck. By then, temperatures had dropped into the high 60s/low 70s, but I was intrigued. I asked the driver if his truck was refrigerated. The answer came back negative, but the driver assured me he would be in Dijon in four hours, after which the wines would be consolidated into a refrigerated truck. Among the shipments on this truck was a parcel headed for one of this country’s top retailers. On this particular day, the wines in that truck were probably safe, but what about the wines that made the same trip earlier in the week? It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that four hours in 100-degree heat will cook wine well before it has a chance to oxidize, prematurely or not. Let me be clear, I am not picking on Burgundy. I am quite sure the same things happen every single day in every region. But they shouldn’t. We go through a fair amount of French butter at my house. I never have to wonder if it has been treated properly along its journey to my dinner table. Why should consumers have to worry if their rare, precious wines, some of which cost a small fortune, have been mishandled along the way? They shouldn’t. It’s time for the industry, and this includes producers - some of whom like to think their responsibility ends when the wine leaves their cellar - to get serious about delivering a quality product. Fine wines should be shipped under temperature-controlled conditions year-round. The incremental cost of shipping via refrigerated container from domaine to the this country is no more than $1 per bottle, a pittance relative to the value of the world’s finest and most desired bottles.