Are old Burgundy whites a thing of the past?

I have recently been asked if there is an “official French” answer to the “prem-ox” (premature oxidization) of old Burgundy whites that was at the centre of heated debates a couple of years ago. For those of you who are not familiar with this question, it was concerning certain consumers of old Burgundy whites that found the Chardonnays from the 1996, 97 & 98 vintages in particular where oxidized, when they should have been at their prime.  Incidents have continued even in the vintages from 1999 to 2004. 

This situation was deemed as unacceptable for those passionate about drinking old Burgundy whites. It is true that Burgundy wine makers such as Coche Dury, Lafon, Sauzet, Bonneau de Matray & Ramonet have made their reputations on their older as well as younger  vintages. Yes Burgundy whites are supposed to be built to last…so what happened to these precious wines that surprised and angered many “connoisseurs”.

There are several reasons that have been forwarded. Batonnage of the whites has been commonplace and in particular during the years mentioned above. Batonnage is a technique where the lees of the Chardonnays are stirred in the barrel to “de-gas” the wine. Stirring stimulates the release of SO2 and CO2 and as such is considered an oxidative process. Certain wine makers practiced high Batonnage in the 1996 vintage which gave a high yield and clean fruit, with high acidity. Intensive Batonnage was done as a means of reducing both acidity and the levels of SO2 that would normally be used. This seems to be the main reason for premature oxidization as admitted by top wine makers such as Coche Dury  and Boudot (Domaine Sauzet) who over-used Batonnage to avoid high use of SO2. These winemakers thought that the benefits from this technique would enrich the wines…time would prove the contrary.  Even those who didn’t use this technique in 96 but in 1999  and 2002 (Ramonet and Bouchard) found themselves with the same oxidization problem. 

This brings us to our next theory…corks! Yes, our Australian friends will no doubt be rubbing their hands and smiling.  We do have a cork problem. Cork’s quality is inevitably deminishing. Because if high demand cork is often taken from younger trees too soon and often from the bottom of the tree. The quality of cork batches is difficult to control, the length of a cork has been reduced since the 1950’s and It’s true that you never get prem-ox from a screw-cap wine. More and more influential  winemakers are turning to Diam or Guala corks for their entry wines. Some like Philippe Senard and Laurent Ponsot have gone one step further and are using them on their premium wines. So could this be a serious culprit for premox? More winemakers would admit to the under-use of SO2, which to me seems a more logical response. But apart from some technical mishaps, are we seeing a more permanent change in the style of white Burgundies? A natural evolution to consumer demands?

Let’s face it, only a knowledgable few, ardent collectors and passionate burgundy wine drinkers still relish the taste of a great 20 year-old white. New, emerging markets, notably from the BRIC countries and younger, newer consumers like the fresh, crisp & mineral taste of white wine. I’m not saying that these estates are now completely changing their wine-making process, but are gradually evolving to more early-drinking Chardonnays with a slighter shorter ageing potential. This doesn’t mean they don’t last, it’s just that they make peak at 12 years rather than 20. 

Winemakers from Burgundy are human and learn from their mistakes like anyone, and the ones I mentioned above have iconic status in the winemaking world. If you are considered the best, the slightest error is paid in cash! But there is nothing earth-shattering in what has happened during that period and after all, the winemaker cannot predict how a wine will evolve after 15 years in a bottle. There were many more cases of premox in the USA which could be due to over exposure to adverse weather conditions when delivering the wine…again another factor to take into consideration. I have picked out several of these factors, which when combined give the results we witnessed above. No one factor is really to blame. 

But that was then and we move on, so trust me, you still get the finest Chardonnays in the world from Burgundy…

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2013 Vintage – potentially a very fine “burgundy vintage”

Almost everyone has been criticizing this vintage, which potentially gave signs of being very difficult. In fact it was a hell of a strange vintage, with a large slice of mildew and disease, very cool and wet conditions and a harvest that took place on the 4th of October…so very  late.  Which is also true of this article, which I have deliberately held back until some interesting and honest tasting could take place in the bottle.  Let’s face it, we were expecting very high acidity due to the rain and cold conditions, and some 2013 Pinots i have tasted have had a certain “tart feel” to them.  To be honest, I can’t often taste the so-called “greatest” wines from the so-called “top” estates, because I’m not a very famous wine critic…but let’s be honest, most of us can’t afford them, at least on a regular basis, and also the estates don’t have anything for us mere mortals to buy!  So for an objective and realistic tasting of Burgundy 2013 that we can afford to buy and drink, here it goes…

Cotes de Nuits…the Pinot noir territory.

A lot of estates expected a fairly acidic and “thin” Pinot but what they found was a classic Pinot vintage with the last three weeks ripening the grapes. Only those estates, and there are a few, who chose to harvest higher yields rather than reduce the quantity, would find their wines a little “tart” and not giving their true fruitfulness. There is the opulence in the 2012 vintage, but more finesse of a true “cool climate” Burgundy in 2013. Some estates thought of reducing acidity bu “de acidification” I.e. Using a chalky substance to reduce acid,  which is totally legal, but most thought twice as it gives a meaner, harder wine and often produces the opposite effect. 

The flowering period took place in early July, over 40 days later than the 07 and 11 vintages. Wine growers were forced to plough up to 10 times rather than the usual 4 or 5 as the grass and weeds grew.  

This is turning out to be a very well-balanced vintage, with great colour, ripe fruit and attractive bouquets. But a little patience is needed to enjoy the Pinot to the full.

Cotes de Beaune…Chardonnay Territory.

Again a difficult time for all, the Cotes de Beaune suffered from another painful hailstorm early July, destroying crops from Aloxe Corton to Meursault. However their was good acidity and those who picked carefully enjoyed a successful vinification.  The Chardonnays have more character than 2011 and better balance than 2010 and 2012.

Very difficult time with some very low yields but producing some excellent wines. 

Exceptionally cool, wet spring resulting in floods and in vineyards so muddy they were exceptionally difficult to enter, much less work. 

Rain during flowering in June resulted in very poor fruit set, and relatively low yields (which helped the remaining grapes inch towards ripeness at the end of the season). 

In July devastating hailstorms hit the Côte de Beaune for the third year running. 

Some warmth arrived at last in August, reducing the three-week delay in the growing season to two. 

A humid September brought the threat of rot, exacerbated by rainstorms on 5/6 October, but acid levels were still dangerously high. 

White wine grapes were picked mainly at the end of September and red wine grapes in early October. 

Sorting was essential but biodynamically grown grapes were generally in much better health, with earlier ripeness, than others. 

Stems were rarely fully ripe, making whole-bunch fermentations potentially difficult. 

Virtually all wines were chaptalised, with a bit of sugar added before fermentation to increase the final alcohol level. 

For winemaking, gentle infusion rather than extraction was the key.

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UNESCO approved – the tourists are coming!!!

Congratulation Burgundy. On the 4th July 2015 UNESCO officially recognized the unique “terroir” that makes up the 1247 vineyards in Burgundy’s prime Côtes de Nuits & Côtes de Beaune districts. Champgane was also recognized, meaning that all France’s main wine regions: Bordeaux, Burgundy & Champagne are now part of UNESCO’s world heritage sites.

The UNESCO committee when giving their positive verdict during the 39th assembly in Bonn, Germany stated that Burgundy was “an outstanding example of grape cultivation and wine production developed since the High Middle Ages,”

This is final recognition of the unique ‘terroir’ conditions in Burgundy that have enabled wine makers to make arguably the best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the world.

The project was spear-headed by Aubert de Villaine, owner of the Romanée Conti estate.

This new status will inevitably lead to an influx of new tourists eager to discover this region. However, the inevitable difficulty is the management of this new parameter. Is the region equipped “logistically” to deal with these new tourists? Do we have adequate infrastructure to cope with their needs? Accommodation, transport, cellar-door facilities?

I get the impression that we are not quite ready. Accommodation is lacking, transport is only possible by train or car as Dijon airport only exists for private jets! And what about cellar-doors? Only 10% of the estates are open for “tastings” in Burgundy…and those that really need to see the tourists are not found in the designated “UNESCO” area…oops!

The paradox is quite unique…tourists really only want to see (and taste wines from) the famous estates, which are in the designated UNESCO area of the Côtes de Nuits & Côtes de Beaune. Unfortunately these estates are closed to the public…Of course you can stroll or drive through the vineyards …but nothing indicates what you are looking at. There are a limited number of estates you can visit, but they are not necessarily the best. The estates who want to see the tourists are in the Côte Chalonnaise, the Maconnais and Chablis districts.

A solution would be to explain the unique set-up in Burgundy, that this region is not like “Napa” in California or “Hunter” in Australia which are geared towards wine tourists. Burgundy is an authentic wine region whose only true vocation is to make wine…small quantities that have to be spread around the world and that are sold mainly through retail channels…not cellar doors The tiny size of the estates and small yield means that they cannot accommodate cellar door facilities and they don’t need them either. They just don’t have that dimension. What’s more, there is an “everyone for themselves” mentality in this region, rather than working for the common good, which makes for poor synergy. It is common knowledge that the Côtes de Nuit district doesn ‘t get on well with the Côte de Beaune!!!

There is no easy solution and I personally can’t come up with one. I just hope that Burgundy authorities have a few good ideas up their sleeve that they are ready to implement quickly…otherwise the shock could be a brutal!

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DRC wines for sale -a unique opportunity

Yes, every once in a while we get some DRC bottles for sale. Here is what we have available…but be quick as they will run out fast…


La Tâche

1 MAG La Tâche 1982 3.500 €

2 bles La Tâche 2003 2.500 €

1 MAG La Tâche 2005 9.200 €

5 bles La Tâche 2009 2.840 €



4 bles Richebourg 2009 1.510 €



1 ble Echezeaux 1985 866€

2 bles Echezeaux 2009 976 €


Grands Echezeaux

1 ble Grands Echezeaux 2001 1.176 €

2 bles Grands Echezeaux 2007 1029 €

2 bles Grands Echezeaux 2009 1.160 €


Romanée Saint Vivant

2 bles Romanée Saint Vivant 2009 1.320 €

5 bles Romanée Saint Vivant 2011 1.209 €


Romanée Conti

1 ble Romanée Conti (Individual Wood Case) 2009 13.125 €

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Burgundy vineyard prices to make you feel dizzy!

Ever thought about investing in Burgundy vineyards? Burgundy is not only very famous, frustratingly difficult to understand, small, unique, complex, now one of UNESCO’s world heritage sites, but also, as you would imagine, highly expensive. The average cost of buying a grand cru vineyard in Burgundy (which by the way is France’s most expensive wine real estate), rose by 5.3% in 2013…and keeps increasing. These vineyards are all but impossible to acquire…

Burgundy is unique in that it is made up of over 2000 estates, the majority of which are less than 10 hectares (25 acres) and in the famous “Côtes de Nuits & Côtes de Beaune” districts (2 out of 5), which cover only 50 km or 30 miles.

Still hungry for more figures? Burgundy has 559 hectares (1,398 acres) of Grand Cru and 3326 hectares (8,315 acres) of 1er Cru (or first growths). Although primarily a white wine region (60%) known for its great Chardonnay, the Pinot Noir accounts for 56.8% of Grand Cru wines and 44.2% of first growths.

So is it easy to purchase a Burgundy estate. No. Unlike Bordeaux, where the “chateau” is in the middle of its vineyard and where you see all you own, Burgundy estates are huddled together in a necklace of villages and their vineyards are found spread over different areas between the villages. To make things even more complicated, in Burgundy they have a mosaic-like set up where each estate owns certain  “parts” of a number of vineyards. Therefore you “cannot” see what you own.

The vineyard plots that rarely come up for sale are expensive and many estates cannot buy them alone and are looking for investors.

To give you an idea of costs, here is the official price index in 2013

Chardonnay – Côtes de Beaune

Appellation village – 590.000€ average price/hectare

Appellation 1er Cru – 1.55m€ average price/hectare (up from 1.50m€

Appellation Grand Cru > 2.46m€/hectare to 12m€

Pinot Noir – Cotes de Nuits

Appellation village  – 480.000€ average price/hectare

Appellation 1er Cru – 655.000€ average price/hectare from 620.000€

Appellation Grand Cru > 2.46m€/hectare to 12m€

Chablis : 175.000 €/ha, Chablis 1er cru : 300.000 €/ha ; Bourgogne appellation régionale : 48.000 €/ha ; petit Chablis : 76.000 €/ha.

Elsewhere in France:

Rhone valley – 1.2m€ / hectare

Bordeaux – 2.3m€ / hectare

Champagne – 1.1m€ / hectare

In Burgundy, which is primarily an agricultural region, vineyard transactions make up about 3% of the area of the agricultural real estate market but over 33% of the value, according to a recent publication.

To add to this, Burgundy has 38 of the 50 most expensive wines in the world…

Still interested? Well there are still some great “value-for-money” purchases to be made in Burgundy. When you’re established in the area, like we are, you get to hear of these things. If you want to know more, contact us:

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Tips on how to enjoy your bottle of wine…

There are certain rules to follow in order to get the best from your bottle of wine. RESPECT is probably the most appropriate. If you don’t repect your wine, then you won’t get the maximum enjoyment.

Wine is like a human being…it is a living organsim that has a life-cycle (like humans) and reacts to atmospheric conditions (like humans).

Ageing and cellar conditions:

Wine is like a human being – it has a lifespan – which can be exploited to the full if kept in perfect conditions, or age prematurely if left in the wrong place. Wine needs to be kept in a humid and cool environment. It doesn’t like dry conditions, exposure to sunlight or extreme heat conditions. Avoid keeping a case of wine under the stairs or in the kitchen or even worse, in your garage!!!*

These are the basic rules:

1/ Keep the bottles lying down. The cork (providing it has one), needs to be kept moist, so contact with the wine is necessary.

2/ Make sure that the storage area is fairly humid – 60% to 70% as the outside of the cork needs to be kept humid too.

3/ A dry cork will shrink so air gets in and wine seeps out, ageing the bottle prematurely.

Opening the bottle and serving:

Wine needs to breathe and a certain amount of oxygen will open up the wine and make it more agreeable to drink. Too much oxygen and the wine will “oxidize” and taste like wet cardboard!

These are the basic rules:

1/Uncork the bottle 30 minutes before serving…avoid carafing or decanting (see late explanation).

Why? Because the wine needs to breathe. When a bottle is uncorked you may get a slightly musty, cheesy, sulphury smell. This usually come from the Wine/SO2/Cork contact. If you let the wine breathe or oxygenate, this will dissappear and the wines true aromas will prevail.

Wine is made of many odorous molecules with different volatility. As the wine breathes, the most volatile molecules evaporate giving the first aromas…the longer the wine breathes or the more you swirl, the more the aromas change as the denser molecules start to evaporate, which you can then smell. That is why when you go to a restaurant and order a bottle of wine, it is only really near the end of the meal that you start to appreciate it…once it has had time to wake up…!

“What if guests turn up by surprise and I have to open a bottle and serve straight away?”

2/ Then pour into a carafe to “oxygenate” the wine before serving.

Tricks of the trade: Go into the kitchen and pour the wine into a carafe (bowl shaped bottle with swan neck – if you don’t have one, use a water jug). If it is an older vintage (+5 years), then pour slowly into the carafe and leave for 5 minutes before serving. If it is -5 years then you can agitate (swirl) the carafe vigorously for a couple of minutes. Take a funnel and pour back into the original bottle. Why? Well, if it is quite an expensive bottle, it’s nice to serve from that original bottle and not the carafe  as guests make take the wine for being Bag In Box!

3/FAQ: Are “wine aerators” efficient?

Yes, although they still remain a “stylish” wine gadget. If you don’t have time to open a bottle 30 minutes before, or you don’t want to swirl the wine in a carafe “à la wine waiter”, then they do work…and it’s always better than drinking unready wine!

Swirling & sipping:

Without wanting to look like a wine snob, there are certain simple stages that should be followed if you want to get the best from your wine.

1/ Look at the wine in your glass. No, this is not to check if your glass has been filled correctly, but just to check the transparence. If the wine looks cloudy or murky, then there will be a problem. It should also tell you a little about the age of the wine. Normally the darker and more intesnse the colour, the younger the wine. If you have a more brick-red colour, the wine is normally older. This does vary according to the grape varietal – but this is not the most important aspect.

2/ Smell before swirl!!! People have the bad habit of swirling as soon as they pick up the glass. Wrong. If you are looking to detect a fault in the wine, or more importantly to see how the wine evolves, you need a benchmark. Smelling the wine before you swirl will give you an idea of how it is from the start and will make it easier to track its evolution or find the fault!

3/ Sip and enjoy!! Yes, the main aim is to drink the wine and to enjoy it.  However your mouth is an elaborate and sensitive tasting machine with taste buds that will always relate the true story…whether good or bad. So read on…

What sensations should I be getting?

Wine is all about personal enjoyment – YOUR personal enjoyment – which will be related to your brain by your sensory organs – primarily SMELL and TASTE.

What you smell, you may like, but you may be dissappointed by the taste or vice versa.

Each person is biologically different and what YOU may detect in the wine, your neighbor may not. You might be sensitive to sweet or sour things. What you have eaten before tasting the wine (or lack of food) could also alter the taste. Did you have coffee, fruit juice or toothpaste???

My advice: when tasting wine, let the first sip line your pallet, but DON’T judge the wine at this stage. Your pallet needs to adapt to the acidity and/or tannins of the wine. Swollow or spit. Then judge the wine on the second taste. This also applies when changing from a red to a white or vice-versa.

Balance is for me the most important part, not trying to find adjectives to describe the wine like “it tastes of white flowers, mushrooms, blackcurrant, cheese crusts etc..”

Balance for white wines is “Alcohol, Acidity & Fruit”

Balance for red wines is “Alcohol, Acidity, Fruit & Tannins”

Wine will always have alcohol form day 1 to the end of its life.

Fruit is obviously an important part in the smell and taste of wine, whether black fruits, red fruits, stone fruits, summer fruits, green fruits etc. You can also get floral notes in wine.

Acidity adds sharpness to the wines and helps them to age too. Warmer climate wines have lower acidity than cooler climates. Acidity is the backbone of white wines and is felt on the sides of your tongue and will make you salivate slightly. Too much acidity tastes excessively sour and sharp, a wine with too little acidity will taste flabby and flat. It also counterbalances the sweetness in wines and the bitterness found in the tannins.

Tannins are the backbone of red wines. Found on grape skins, seeds and from the wine barrel they have a certain bitterness and give the red wines a character. When young, a red wine will have very dry and bitter tannins. This will be felt in your mouth, in particular at the back, on the roof of your pallet and on your gums. Tannins are looking for proteins in your mouth and the only way to avoid that extra dryness is to accompany the red wine with protein-based foods such as meats, cheeses or chick peas, lentilles (for vegetarians). The tannins will leave the natural proteins in your mouth alone and hook on to the food substances, making the drinking of the red wine more enjoyable!!

So basically, a good wine means a perfect harmonius balance of the above and will result in you saying “wow, now that IS good”.

But you musn’t forget what wine is all about…

“the right wine, with the right food and the right people at the right time…”




*If you don’t have a wine cellar (which is the case for most people), or space is limited,  invest in a small wine fridge…

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Bordeaux vs Burgundy…a Chinese puzzle!

So we’ve just been informed that the Chinese are now owners of over 100 wineries in Bordeaux (out of about 8000). That means that 1.25% of Bordeaux is now owned by the Chinese!
But we’ve also been informed that the Chinese are now buying more Burgundy wine than Bordeaux! So what do the Chinese prefer? Here is where the puzzle starts. The rise in wine estate acquisitions in Bordeaux by the Chinese isn’t a sudden revelation of their love of Bordeaux wine, rather the search for a new “status symbol” to show their wealth.
To be honest, I believe the Chinese to be a little wary of Bordeaux wines. Why? Well for two main reasons: counterfeit wines that find there way on to the Chinese market and are scaring the Chinese from acquiring bottles such as Chateau Lafite Rothschild (of which about 70% on the Chinese market are fake). They are fed up of spending up to 6000$ on a bottle that turns out to be counterfeit!
The other reason is the Chinese governments clampdown on gift giving – a national pastime – and where offering expensive bottles of wine would have been considered the ideal gift.

What’s more the Chinese have moved on. After spending several years discovering and buying Bordeaux wines, they decided to move on to the other premium wine region, Burgundy. Here the challenge is different and even more exciting as it is a challenge to discover and understand “Bourgogne” as it is now suitably called and it’s unique “terroir”.
So why do the Chinese buy more chateaux in Bordeaux then in Burgundy? As mentioned earlier, the Chinese are buying “chateaux” in Bordeaux as a status symbol. They are easier to identify as you’ll find a beautiful chateau in the middle of the vineyard, whereas in Burgundy, the estate (they don’t call them chateau here) is normally located in one of the beautiful villages and it’s vineyards (or “parcelle” as it’s called in French) are spread around the village and beyond. You rarely own a whole vineyard in Burgundy, you own a section of one vineyard….maybe 20 or 40 rows of vines, and some more in another and so on….So in Burgundy it’s difficult to find an estate on it’s own vineyard. It’s called the burgundy exception. So for the Chinese who are looking for a visible “all-in-one” tangible estate, they look to Bordeaux. You get it all in a glance!
The Chinese are however unperturbed by Burgundy’s intricacies and are frequently found, in small groups, visiting the vineyards and trying to understand the famous “expression of the terroir”, of which the Burgundians are so proud. Many small-sized estates producing some of the best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on the planet just have to be discovered. One Chinese businessman, Louis Ng, bought a Burgundy estate, the Chateau de Gevrey Chambertin. He is, to my knowledge, the only Chinese estate owner in Burgundy. Strangely enough it is a chateau and not an estate) in the middle of its vineyard…one of the rare specimens in Burgundy. But this proves a point.
I have many clients from Asia: China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore and they marvel at the authentic and unique way in which wine is still made in Burgundy, the history and the men (and women) that make the local wines so unique. Bordeaux is more forthright, whereas Burgundy is more subtle. Or to say it in local terms, Bordeaux has the body whereas Burgundy has the elegance!
So going back to my first point as to whether they are Bordeaux or Burgundy, I think the answer has to be both. But more importantly why are so many Chinese visiting these famous wine regions in the first place? Its not just about their love of French wines, it’s also about curiosity.
China will be the 6th largest wine producer by 2016 and wine regions are sprouting in several parts of the country. There is already a fight between the Shandong province and the Ningxia region, with both vying to become China’s answer to Napa valley. The Chinese government is giving grant money to anyone who wishes to develop agricultural land and build a winery and new winery estates are popping up everywhere. China has the biggest domestic tourism market in the world and big ambitions too. China wants to rival with Bordeaux’s wine quality in the next 30 years and make the domestic wine market a fine wine market too. The Chinese are here to discover, enjoy and emulate. Many are on a fact-finding mission as the wine culture is a new culture which they wish to embrace. China is a superpower with big ambitions…become the number one wine production country in the world. They are not there yet, but give them a few more years and who knows?
So could this be the missing piece of the Chinese puzzle? Only time will tell.

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