The Appealing 2011 White Burgundies for the Modern Drinker

Domaine Armand Rousseau
Domaine Armand Rousseau

I looked forward to trying the 2011 vintage white Burgundies at a recent Frederick Wildman tasting in San Francisco.  The vintage ended up being an extremely variable one, even by Burgundy standards, with an unusually dry and warm spring leading to early budbreak, followed by a cool and wet summer.  I gave a preview of how variable it was in my blog post from early June 2011.  Even then, winemakers like Romain Taupenot in Gevrey-Chambertain predicted that it would be an early harvest and he was right – it was one of the earliest in recent memory.

Oftentimes, cool vintages can lead to high acid, thin wines, but not in this case with an early head start and mostly sunny conditions during harvest.  What I found from talking to producers at the tasting from the north to south of Burgundy, was that acidity levels were slightly lower than usual, resulting in more approachable wines from a New World wine drinker’s perspective.  What the wines lack in power and concentration, they make up for in youthful charm, suppleness and balance.  And isn’t that what most of us drink on an everyday basis?  Not long-term cellaring wines, but drinking wines in the 2-7 years of age range.

The expression is pure

Fabian and Christian Moreau.
Fabian and Christian Moreau

I love Christian Moreau in Chablis.  They were one of the seven producers I selected for a series of Chablis media events here in the San Francisco Bay Area last November.   In 2011, flowering was over by the end of May, three weeks earlier than normal.  Even with a cool summer, they were still a couple weeks ahead in ripeness by the end of August.  They began harvest on September 1, two weeks earlier than even the warm 2009 vintage, but there was no short-changing the character of the wines.  My favorite was the Christian Moreau Chablis Grand Cru “Les Clos” 2011, undeniably Chablis, undeniably Grand Cru with the subtle but unmistakable salinity on the long finish, no doubt from the oyster-derived Kimmeridgean soils.  It’s what Fabian calls the “taste of the ocean” but what I call ultimate food wine.   I also loved the 2011 Valmur Grand Cu, a beautifully balanced and elegant wine with a long finish.

An American Chardonnay lover’s dream wine

Olivier Leflaive, center.
Patrick Leflaive, center.

That’s what I told Patrick Leflaive of Olivier Leflaive after I tasted the Olivier Leflaive Chassagne-Montrachet 2011.  It showed the appellation’s characteristic floral scent coupled with ripe orchard fruit and just the right amount of butter and oak.  Patrick said they had 10% less acid than 2010 so that the wines are more approachable.  I agree.  This village-level wine – a blend of Chardonnay from several plots – shows what fine balance can be achieved in the hands of the right producer.

Natural balance

Chateau Fuisse
Chateau Fuisse

For Antoine Vincent, winemaker at Chateau Fuisse in Pouilly-Fuisse, natural balance could be achieved with lower acidity levels because alcohol was also lower, by 1/2 a degree.  Pouilly-Fuisse, all the way to the south of Burgundy, has the ripest, most full-bodied Chardonnay of the region.  In 2011, the wines were about 13-13.5% alcohol vs. 13.5% and above.  These wines can take more new french oak, in fact, 100% new in my favorite wine the Chateau Fuisse Pouilly-Fuisse “Les Brules” 2011, but it’s never overt.  The wines are fermented and aged in oak barrels, resulting in fine integration of oak.  Les Brules is a monopole with a southern exposure – grapes get very ripe but not “burnt” as in “brules“.

Quality is in the producer

The overall quality of the wines at the tasting was terrific because the producers are among the best in Burgundy.  They know how to work the vines and wines deftly in challenging vintages, through pruning, severe selection at harvest, timing the harvest and blending.

Buy Burgundy now

Everyday is a great day to buy Burgundy but, as I mentioned earlier in Why Buy Chablis Now there are supply and demand imbalances in the global market that suggest buying now vs. later.  I especially recommend swooping up as much 2008 (especially Chablis), 2009 and 2010 as you can find left in the market since these will slumber in your cellar for a while.  In the meantime, enjoy the 2011s!

All the wines are imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, Ltd.

All photos courtesy Frederick Wildman & Sons, Ltd.