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Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
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Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.
2006 CHAMBERTIN CLOS DE BEZE QUALITY AND VALUE LACKING

Geoff Kelly  MSc (Hons)


The simple fact of the matter is,  too much allegedly-fine burgundy these days is a con,  an expensive snare and delusion fed and fostered by technically-wanting winewriters peddling the kind of arrant nonsense immortalised by Anthony Hanson MW,  in his view on the smell of burgundy in his 1982 book Burgundy,  the tasting chapter.  So,  what has prompted anew this sacrilegious thought ?

In a recent Wellington blind tasting prompted by Helen Masters,  winemaker at Ata Rangi Vineyard,  Martinborough,  and substantially organised and presented in great detail (August,  2012) by Wellington wine-man Mark St Clair,  the goal was to assess 16 different renderings of the famous Cote de Nuits and Gevrey-Chambertin vineyard Clos de Beze,  from the 2006 vintage.  Clos de Beze is one of the great addresses in Burgundy.  It is a relatively large vineyard by Burgundy standards,  with around 15.4 ha and 18 owners.  Not all the wines in the tasting were from owners,  four being more negociant wines,  where the firm has an understanding for grape supply with an owner.  Since Damoy is by far the largest owner,  he is likely to be the supplier.  

The 16 wines shown may not include all the great producers,  but the list includes highly-rated,  reputable and well-regarded ones which figure in several recent lists of leading players.  For example Tim Atkin in 2007 published a list of his better burgundy producers in The Guardian,  based on the London 'burgundy week' that year (though Atkin is permissive on technical matters).   Jancis Robinson has published a list on her website featuring her reliable burgundy producers specifically for the 2006 vintage.  Curiously,  neither include Armand Rousseau,  who most people agree is the leader of the pack for Gevrey-Chambertin.  Accordingly,  expectations were high.  

Yet of the 16 wines,  ranging in price from $NZ177 to $NZ638 (once landed in New Zealand),  not one was breathtakingly beautiful pinot noir.  Okay,  you may say,  it wasn't a great vintage.  At a rating of 91 on the Wine Spectator's usually carefully thought-out vintage rating charts,  91 is hardly a failure however.  But even in lesser vintages,  it is not unreasonable at this price level to hope,  even expect,  that some proprietors can still create something beautiful,  though perhaps not large-scale or powerful.  

Robinson described the nature of the vintage clearly in a 2008 account on her website: She says: Quality of tannins seems to be, as so often with less concentrated vintages, the key to red wine quality in 2006. Those winemakers who made the wine as they did in, say, 2005 tended to end up with wines in which tough, astringent tannins dominated the rather puny fruit.  She went on to say:  But more and more winemakers seem to be seeking elegance and there is no shortage of well balanced, charming wines .  Charm was not the over-riding impression of our 16,  and the reference to 'puny fruit' could not be more apt.

And then there is the issue of technical standards.  Of the 16 Clos de Beze wines,  38% were affected to greater or lesser degree by brett.  Yet it is vanishingly rare to find any northern hemisphere winewriter even mentioning brett.  None of the reviews available to me for these wines uses the word.  The closest is again Jancis Robinson: but is it quite clean?  If one counts in the sighter / whistle-wetter wine (2006 Pierre Naigeon Lavaux Saint-Jacques Vieilles Vignes Premier Cru),  the ratio of brett-affected wines rises to 41%.  It is understandable that many technically-unconcerned winewriters actually like the savoury smells and tastes of brett character in wines,  and in moderation it does make red wines very food-friendly.  But the point at issue is,  brett is not part of the future of fine wine,  and winewriters should be able to identify and comment on this component in wine.  So for two reasons therefore,  this tasting provides disappointing results,  in 2012.

At the writing-up stage,  and in continuing disbelief at the quality displayed given the cost of some of the wines,  I opened a couple of New Zealand pinot noirs to refresh the palate,  as it were (2007 Peregrine The Pinnacle,  Central Otago,  $175,  and 2008 Grasshopper Rock,  Central Otago,  $36).  The only reasonable conclusion that a careful New Zealand wine researcher can draw from this whole exercise is:  serious New Zealand pinot noir (that is,  not beverage / supermarket pinot noir),  is in its upper levels achieving a quality measured by classical fine burgundy standards which could scarcely have been dreamt of just 15 years ago.  

British wine writers still continue to patronise New Zealand pinot noir,  and imply how jolly well it is coming along,  but this tasting dramatically shows that New Zealand producers at the level of Ata Rangi,  Escarpment Vineyard,  Felton Road,  Grasshopper Rock,  Mount Difficulty Wines and Peregrine are already producing pinot noirs which in their better years (just as for Burgundy) consistently stack up with many a reputable cru-level (including grands crus) pinot noir from Burgundy.  Of my two check-wines,  The Pinnacle displayed a varietal quality,  intensity and purity which only the Rousseau matched or surpassed,  though the Rousseau was much lighter.  And the much more affordable Grasshopper Rock could be no means be ignored either,  in the context.

The finest examples of grand cru burgundy still achieve a complexity,  florality,  richness,  mouthfeel and excellence we can only pursue,  but firstly they are rare,  and secondly they occupy a price stratosphere so rarefied as to be irrelevant to the vast majority of wine drinkers.  Thus,  based on this tasting of 16 grand cru wines from a great site in a reasonable year,  the main conclusion is that for a wine to be French and from Burgundy is no longer any guarantee whatsoever of pinot noir quality.  I discount dissembling arguments that the concept of burgundy implies more than pinot noir.  That is the kind of elitist argument too many in the sometimes precious wine world foster.

So what did this extraordinary tasting cost the participants ?  At the bare-bones cost of the wines,  and the room kindly made available gratis by Glengarry Wines,  Thorndon Quay,  the fee was $347 per head.  One pinot noir winemaker was keen enough to fly up from Otago to attend,  and a couple of Martinborough's keenest were there too.  This sort of exercise really sorts out who is fundamentally excited by pinot noir,  and wishes to study it,  quite a different perspective from simply being a winemaker even a pinot noir winemaker.  On that note,  two winewriters were there,  too.  But on this occasion,  sad to say,  the take-away impression was disappointment.  A reminder of the old saying it is better to travel hopefully

My impressions of the wines follow:  





THE WINES REVIEWED:  Pinot Noir


2006  Domaine Bart Chambertin Clos de Beze
2006  Bouchard Pere & Fils Chambertin-Clos-de-Beze
2006  Domaine Bruno Clair Chambertin Clos de Beze
2006  Domaine Pierre Damoy Chambertin Clos de Beze
2006  Maison Joseph Drouhin Chambertin-Clos de Beze
2006  Domaine Drouhin-Laroze Chambertin-Clos de Beze
2006  Domaine Duroche Chambertin-Clos de Beze
2006  Domaine Frederic Esmonin Chambertin-Clos de Beze
2006  Domaine Faiveley Chambertin Clos de Beze
  2006  Domaine Frederic Magnien Chambertin-Clos de Beze
2006  Domaine Pierre Gelin Chambertin Clos de Beze
2006  Domaine Robert Groffier Chambertin Clos de Beze
2006  Domaine Louis Jadot Chambertin Clos de Beze
2006  Pierre Naigeon Lavaux Saint Jacques Vieilles Vignes Premier Cru
2006  Maison Nicolas Potel Chambertin-Clos de Beze
2006  Domaine Prieure Roch Chambertin Clos de Beze
2006  Domaine Armand Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze
 

2006  Domaine Armand Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze   18  ()
Gevrey-Chambertin Grand Cru,  Cote de Nuits,  Burgundy,  France:  13.5%;  $529
Representative pinot noir ruby,  a little age creeping in,  amongst the lightest,  a little fresher than the Jadot.  Bouquet is very fragrant,  light roses,  red grading to black cherry,  slightly cedary oak,  great typicité.  Palate is deceptively rich given the light colour,  red fruits,  lovely texture on the tongue which is truly burgundian.  The wine is immaculately clean.  As so often,  Rousseau achieves the benchmark level in quality and style,  but even so the wine tends to the petite,  for the site.  Cellar 5 12 years.  GK 08/12

2006  Domaine Bruno Clair Chambertin Clos de Beze   17 ½ +  ()
Gevrey-Chambertin Grand Cru,  Cote de Nuits,  Burgundy,  France:  13%;  $199
Pinot noir ruby,  not the rosiest hue,  in the middle for depth.  Bouquet is clean,  demure,  nearly floral,  more black than red fruits in style.  In mouth the wine is attractive,  not over-oaked,  closer to the Esmonin than the Rousseau,  but not as rich.  Oak creeps in as the fruit fades on the later palate.  Cellar 5 12 years.  GK 08/12

2006  Maison Joseph Drouhin Chambertin-Clos de Beze   17 ½  ()
Gevrey-Chambertin Grand Cru,  Cote de Nuits,  Burgundy,  France:  13.5%;  $339
Representative classical pinot noir ruby,  the lightest colour,  but a good hue like the Rousseau.  Bouquet is in the light,  pretty,  rosy and floral style which characterises so many Drouhin wines,  red fruits more than black,  subtlest oak,  beautiful purity.  Palate reveals great sensitivity in oaking for the lighter year,  the pinot flesh attractively displayed and the oak gently,  almost invisibly,  shaping.  Modernists might argue the wine is wimpish,  but there is an attraction in the delicacy and deceptive length.  Cellar 3 8 years.  GK 08/12

2006  Domaine Frederic Esmonin Chambertin-Clos de Beze   17 ½  ()
Gevrey-Chambertin Grand Cru,  Cote de Nuits,  Burgundy,  France:  13.5%;  $177
Good depth of pinot noir ruby,  the only wine fresh in hue,  above midway in depth.  Bouquet is a little lacking in the floral component one hopes for in fine burgundy,  but it displays good plummy more than cherry fruit dominant over slightly hessian oak.  It is totally clean.  Palate is reasonably rich and round,  not overly tannic or over-oaked,  pleasing and varietal in mouth with good length and acid balance,  still primary.  Just a little short on magic,  both on bouquet and late palate.  Cellar 5 12 years,  to soften and perhaps open up.  GK 08/12

2006  Domaine Louis Jadot Chambertin Clos de Beze   17 ½  ()
Gevrey-Chambertin Grand Cru,  Cote de Nuits,  Burgundy,  France:  13%;  $326
Representative pinot noir ruby,  slightly older than the Rousseau,  among the lightest.  Initial bouquet on this wine is impressive,  suggestions of florality,  red grading to black fruits,  beautifully clean.  A little later,  one realises the florality includes vanillin from the oak,  and on palate,  the wine is a little oaky and slightly drying on the oak,  relative to the Rousseau.  Cellar 3 10 years.  GK 08/12

2006  Domaine Bart Chambertin Clos de Beze   17 +  ()
Gevrey-Chambertin Grand Cru,  Cote de Nuits,  Burgundy,  France:  13%;  $349
Some depth of pinot noir ruby,  one of the deepest wines,  but not the rosiest hue.  Fruit on bouquet is black more than red cherries in aroma,  fragrant but not floral,  the oak looming.  Palate brings up the oak more,  but the fruit stands up to it reasonably well.  So much oak does attenuate varietal beauty however,  and rather dominates the palate.  A vivid contrast with the Drouhin in style,  they complement each other perfectly,  both wines beautifully clean.  Cellar 5 12 years,  though the oak will increase.  GK 08/12

2006  Maison Nicolas Potel Chambertin-Clos de Beze   17 +  ()
Gevrey-Chambertin Grand Cru,  Cote de Nuits,  Burgundy,  France:  13.5%;  $320
Good pinot noir ruby,  a little below midway in depth.  Bouquet is quiet,  pure,  red cherry more than black,  sound but lacking excitement.  Flavour shows attractive red fruits,  good length,  but the oak creeping up and starting to dry the later palate.  Very much a wine in the middle,  in this tasting.  Cellar 3 8 years,  longer if increased oak is OK.  GK 08/12

2006  Domaine Pierre Damoy Chambertin Clos de Beze   17  ()
Gevrey-Chambertin Grand Cru,  Cote de Nuits,  Burgundy,  France:  13%;  $464
Some depth of pinot noir ruby,  one of the three deepest wines,  but not the rosiest hue.  At this point in the ranking,  more old-fashioned bouquet and flavour notes start to appear.  This wine is fragrant but not floral,  an attractive savoury herbed casserole note on bouquet bespeaking both a little brett and imperfect ripeness,  on red fruits.  Palate has fair richness,  but drying tannins starting to loom large,  plus a hint of stalks again.  The whole wine is savoury and food-friendly.  It would be rated very differently at the dining table than the tasting table sell on cheese (as for too many in this tasting).  Cellar 5 12 years.  GK 08/12

2006  Domaine Drouhin-Laroze Chambertin-Clos de Beze   17  ()
Gevrey-Chambertin Grand Cru,  Cote de Nuits,  Burgundy,  France:  13%;  $230
Good pinot noir ruby,  one of the fresher ones,  just above midway in depth.  Bouquet includes some floral notes,  on red fruits giving a slightly perfumed and pretty bouquet.  Palate has a freshness of cherry fruit which is attractive,  but also a hint of stalk detracting a little (even if it explains the bouquet).  Interesting wine alongside the Drouhin,  for the contrasting ripeness component.  Beautifully clean.  Cellar 5 12 years.  GK 08/12

2006  Bouchard Pere & Fils Chambertin-Clos-de-Beze   16 ½ +  ()
Gevrey-Chambertin Grand Cru,  Cote de Nuits,  Burgundy,  France:  13.5%;  $534
Pinot noir ruby,  right in the middle for depth.  Bouquet is much more old-fashioned here,  a little entrained reduction leading to leathery thoughts,  fair fruit but little fragrance,  just a hint of herbes too.  Palate continues the bouquet perfectly,  all a little rustic and leathery,  some brett adding to the complexity,  slightly stalky.  Food wine,  another needing splashy decanting.  Cellar 5 10 years.  GK 08/12

2006  Domaine Frederic Magnien Chambertin-Clos de Beze    16 ½ +  ()
Gevrey-Chambertin Grand Cru,  Cote de Nuits,  Burgundy,  France:  13.5%;  $201
Good pinot noir ruby,  above midway in depth.  Bouquet is attractive in its old-fashioned style,  good red fruits,  some savoury notes pointing to brett,  good oak.  Palate shows good berry ripeness,  but the fruit shortening on the brett component,  leading to a drying finish which would be food-friendly.  Cellar 3 8 years.  GK 08/12

2006  Domaine Robert Groffier Chambertin Clos de Beze   16 ½  ()
Gevrey-Chambertin Grand Cru,  Cote de Nuits,  Burgundy,  France:  13.5%;  $389
Pinot noir ruby,  not the rosiest,  below midway in depth.  Bouquet includes light animal mercaptan notes detracting,  on fair fruit but plain oak.  In mouth fruit richness is better than a number and the oak is less,  brett is academic,  and in a slightly grubby way,  the wine tastes reasonably well in mouth.  Pinot noir is about beauty,  however,  so the wine has to be marked down.  Splashy decanting needed.  Cellar 3 10 years.  GK 08/12

2006  Domaine Duroche Chambertin-Clos de Beze   16 +  ()
Gevrey-Chambertin Grand Cru,  Cote de Nuits,  Burgundy,  France:  13%;  $266
Older pinot noir ruby,  below midway in depth.  Bouquet is quiet in the company,  fading red fruits,  one wonders if some chaptalising,  older oak.  Palate is short,  trace brett,  a little lacking in freshness / or a little old for age.  Pleasantly modest.  Cellar 2 6 years.  GK 08/12

2006  Domaine Pierre Gelin Chambertin Clos de Beze   16 +  ()
Gevrey-Chambertin Grand Cru,  Cote de Nuits,  Burgundy,  France:  13.5%;  $190
Good pinot noir ruby,  above midway.  Bouquet is not convincing,  another one suggesting chaptalising,  red fruits only,  clean but lacking.  In mouth,  there is pleasing simple red fruit,  again slightly candied,  total acid elevated,  some new oak at peril of increasing relative to the light fruit.  Cellar 2 6 years.  GK 08/12

2006  Pierre Naigeon Lavaux Saint Jacques Vieilles Vignes Premier Cru   16  ()
Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru,  Cote de Nuits,  Burgundy,  France:  13.5%;  $140
Older pinot noir ruby,  though one of the darker.  This was the sighter wine,  but it didn't work out too well.  Bouquet is a real old-timer,  both phases of brett aroma rampant,  modest fading fruit,  blue mould on citrus aromas through the palate though not unpleasant (thoughts of Rioja),  some new oak incongruous and tannic in the mix.  Food wine,  for those relaxed about brett.  Cellar 2 6 years.  GK 08/12

2006  Domaine Faiveley Chambertin Clos de Beze   15  ()
Gevrey-Chambertin Grand Cru,  Cote de Nuits,  Burgundy,  France:  13.5%;  $400
Old pinot noir ruby,  some garnet,  above midway in depth.  Bouquet is really old-fashioned,  fading red fruits,  some reduction,  more brett.  Flavours in mouth are mellow and leathery,  rustic but recognisably (defective) burgundy.  Splashy decanting needed.  Scarcely worth cellaring.  GK 08/12

2006  Domaine Prieure Roch Chambertin Clos de Beze
Gevrey-Chambertin Grand Cru,  Cote de Nuits,  Burgundy,  France:  12%;  $638
I cannot evaluate this wine in context.  The first bottle proved defective in colour and bouquet on opening,  the wine seriously oxidised,  and the palate and aftertaste deteriorated to the point of mustyness.  Helen Masters was so disappointed by this showing,  she opened a second bottle the following day.  She reports this wine was quite different,  pointing to a defective cork in the first bottle,  a wine in the lesser half of the batch,  pleasant,  not showing any of the technical issues of concern for so many of the wines,  but not particularly impressive.  I did not taste this second bottle,  so cannot score it.  GK 08/12