Aged Burgundy – an experiment in bottle age
I managed to get a hold of a bottle of aged white Burgundy a month or two ago. But that’s not the whole story. For starters, I bought one at an online auction (a little above my normal budget) and ended up with two through my own computational ignorance. So fate dealt me a good hand – two bottles of the same aged Burgundy – a wine lover’s idea of heaven. It wasn’t just that I could scoff down the two of them in a hurry and revel in their glory. It was more that I had a great opportunity to compare two bottles of the same wine, under cork, from a vintage that has been written off by many. Here’s the rub.
The two bottles were Blain-Gagnard Chassagne-Montrachet ‘Les Caillerets’ 1997. A gorgeous chardonnay from a very good appellation, aged in bottle from a private cellar. What more could I ask for? Well, given that I had only an hour to decide on bidding for these bottles, I had to get my research hat on. Some wrote off the 1997 vintage as a bit of an average vintage, with minimal prospects for long-term aging or improvement. Some said that it should be consumed immediately, even upon release! Others said that premature oxidation was rife in white Burgundies of this time, and that it was a great risk in buying bottles, especially this old. But something made me want it (one, at the time, not two!).
The second bottle - a big difference in colour and taste
Burghound, known for his discerning Burgundy palate, spoke well of other vintages from this producer. Clive Coates MW, also an expert on Burgundy, thought it wasn’t too bad, but by no means great. But I had tasted white Burgundies that blew my palate away, and I was anxious to get that beautiful fruit flavour and generously used oak touch again. The white Burgundy that first captured me was a Gagnard-Delagrange Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru ‘Morgeot’ 2007, which I tasted in 2013 at 6 years old. At this point the wine was absolutely sublime, so in buying another Chassagne-Montrachet wine, I had to wonder whether 18 years was far too long for a white Burgundy? Most would say yes. Those willing to dip their toes into the murky waters of prem-ox, dicey corks, and dodgy vintages might say ‘sock it to me!’. And so I did. What happened next shows the amazing bottle variation you will get in wines under cork, especially those that might have been stored in different conditions.
Bottle #1 was opened with wine-loving friends, and I was anxious to see how it would perform. We drank it with a plate of roast chicken and vegetables. The first amazing impression was of the honey colour of the wine, and the gentle smell of smoke. No sign of prem-ox – it had survived! With a bit of time out of the bottle, and a bit of swirling, the wine began to show itself brilliantly. Very good use of oak, great persistence of fruit, and what developed flavours! Cashews, almonds, some marzipan or pastry, touches of cream, and a wonderfully mouthfilling, smoky texture. It is hard to score this wine as it is such a unique experience, and one you don’t see very often in terms of bottle maturity and palate. I don’t know how you’d get your hands on one, but do try!
The challenge after such a wonderful experience with Bottle #1 was to see if that was replicated in Bottle #2. Immediately we were concerned. The colour was a lot darker, more like a very dark honey rather than a golden honey. The nose had the smoky notes and the nuances of oak, but gosh was everything else different. This bottle was vastly more developed and sort of, well, just old. It smelled of port – raisins, and a kind of burnt note. With some swirling the wine showed the last remnants of its fruit, but it was the tertiary flavours that showed themselves most. Definitely not up to the standard of Bottle #1, but a great lesson in comparison nonetheless!
The second bottle - the colour was amazing!
So what of it then?
A great lesson for me here has been comparing two identical bottles, under cork, from the same vintage. The aging process really is different so where possible, buy wines in multiples, store them identically, and you will more than likely get a great constancy of flavour over their development.