How to Train Yourself to Memorize Varietal CharacteristicsBy Marisa D'Vari | January 6th, 2010 | Category: News | 2 comments
Imagine yourself at a very elegant restaurant, hosting an important client, or trying to impress a date. You both decide on white fish as an entrée, so you are leaning toward a white wine. And since Chardonnay is such a popular grape, and Burgundy, France, such a respected region, you decide to go in this direction.
Yet as your eyes scan the enormous wine list, you see the various regions: Chablis, Meursault, and Puligny-Montrachet (and dozens of others). Maybe you remember ordering wines from these regions before, maybe you don’t, yet either way you feel frustrated that you can’t remember the differences between them.
Of course, you could always call over the sommelier and at the moment, it is probably your best option. Yet in the future you could help recall tasting notes from these wines with some practice.
Recently, I had to taste and compare three white Burgundies from the above-named region in the same vintage for a Master of Wine related exercise. So for this tasting I choose 2007 Philippe Chavy Meursault (from the village of Narvaux), the 2007 Louis Carillon Puligny-Montrachet, and the 2007 Jean Collet Chablis Vielles Vignes The idea was to open label taste the wines, then bag them and see if I (and a friend) could detect the correct wines.
2007 Jean Collet Chablis Vielles Vignes
Before tasting the wines, I did as much Internet research as I could. I had been to Burgundy before and remembered Chablis (mainly because it was February, freezing, and could not find a coat to buy in the charming tiny Chablis village),
So having been there, I could imagine the high acidity, the clean citrus flavors, and other elements associated with very cool climates. The Chablis was as I expected it to be: very high acid, sharp citrus (lemon, a hint of grapefruit), some mild apple, some fresh butter (as opposed to melted), and minerals.
On the Internet, I read Chablis producer Jean Collet’s family began producing wine in the 17th century, and his vineyards are parcels locate on the best hills on both the left and right banks of the river Serein in the village of Chablis. Soil is limestone and marl from (Kimmeridgian and Portlandian). The age of the vineyards is 25 years, and they do a mechanical harvest and use a pneumatic press. The wines are fermented and aged in stainless steel under controlled temperature.
Now I am going to discuss the other wines, yet will compare them to one another and leave the Chablis out of the comparison. True, these wines are all from the Burgundy region, but because the Chablis is stainless steel only, and the others have oak, it is very easy to detect the differences (even by sight, as the above wine is very pale lemon).
2007 Philippe Chavy Meursault & 2007 Philippe Chavy Meursault (from the village of Narvaux)
In terms of sight, you might guess that the Meursault would be darker because of a tradition of oak aging, and you are right. Open label tasting the Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault it was “easy” to detect the subtle differences. The Meursault was characterized by butter, ripe apple, subtle spice (from oak), vanilla, and very rich, ripe, generous, concentrated fruit. It seemed ready to drink, and would not necessarily benefit from additional bottle age. In terms of quality, it seemed very much a premium wine. The Puligny-Montrachet was a little lighter in color, with a medium plus nose of butter and very ripe fruit in addition to aromas of hazelnut and saffron. One could almost detect a pastry cream type of aroma and the biscuit aroma often a result of decomposed yeast cells. On the palate, the “texture” was opulent, rich, generous, supple, and concentrated while the acidity was still medium plus. Very good quality again.
Though the Puligny-Montrachet was $60, it was only a village level wine. The two grand cru vineyards in Puligny-Montrachet are Chevalier-Montrachet and Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet, and two which are shared with neighboring Chassagne: Le Montrachet itself and Batard-Montrachet. I read that the village wines are “less impressive” than the village wines of neighboring Meursault because the water table is nearer the surface. This means that village producers can not dig the deep cellars ideal for aging and they can not prolong barrel maturation for more than a year.
The Carillon family traces their lineage in Puligny Montrachet to 1520 and it is comprised of 12 hectares of vineyards. The holdings in Puligny (8 ha total) are various parcels located on the Chassagne side of Puligny, within “Enseignere.” On his web site Mr. Carillon writes that the grapes are harvested manually, with the whites barrel fermented and aged in a small percentage of new oak and that some of the Village wine is aged in larger foudres rather than small barrels. Battonaged is practiced. The wines are assembled in stainess steel prior to bottling (which occurs in early spring) 18 months after harvest.
Now the Meursault terroir consists of marl and chalk soil, and the kind of high water table that allows producers such as Phillipe Chavy to carve deep cold cellars. No Grand Cru in Meursault, yet the Premiere Cru vineyards are Les Perrieres, Les Genevrieres, Les Charmes, Le Poruzot, Les Boucheres, and Les Gouttes d’Or. M. Chavy writes on his web site that he cultivates 8 hectares of splintered holdings comprising 30 plots. The various cuvees are vinified separately and may be blended later depending on his objectives. The grapes are harvested by hand as the vines are old and the rows very narrow. It takes 30 harvesters ten days to pick the grapes. Though his father and grandfather used mechanization and sprays, Mr. Chavy decided to revert to ploughing his vineyards, and no longer uses herbicides or insecticides so as to preserve the environment.
In the cellar, Mr. Chavy uses a pneumatic press (ideal for gentle, slow pressing of the must) and stainless steel, temperature controlled tanks.The final phase of vinification and maturation is conducted in oak barrels of various ages and provenances. The wines are aged for 11 month with regular stirring of the lees. M. Chavy writes that he recently purchased a special hi-tech filter so as to avoid stripping the wines of flavor before bottling. A small producer, Mr Chavy has two full time employees and his wife Graziella looks after sales.
So after tasting the wines open label, the idea was to bag them and the next day, pick out the correct wine. Though it was easy to tell the difference open label, the 24 hour lag seemed to have made the comparison between the Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault more difficult. The darker color of the barrel aged Meursault was the best tip.
And there you have it!
Which of the above villages are your favorite, and why?