Thursday, July 5, 2012

Bad News, Good News

For the past couple of years there has been an ugly word slithering around the wine chat boards and amongst collectors. Those cats that love to dig their teeth into the flaws and try and find fault. The word is “Premox” it’s being tossed at white Burgundy, like all the damn time, and quite frankly, it’s leaving a bit of a stain. It hasn’t quite hit the mainstream yet so I thought I would discuss it here, with our customers and the less publication swollen folks, before their well becomes tainted by eager wine writers looking to burst on the scene with the next big story…almost always way late and with blanket generalizations that more often do more harm than good, you know, for the actual consumer.

 Pre-mox is short for premature oxidation, which is when a wine tastes advanced or oxidized sooner than the collector had bet on or before the “best before” date speculated and scribbled at the bottom of tasting notes in wine publications. Those guys spending so much time with the wines and all, watching them develop, tasting them on their own…oh wait, that’s not how it goes is it? But I’m sure lots can be garnered from the swirl, sniff, slurp, and swish, spit and move along to the next method. I mean, that’s how all gold medals are handed out so it must have some value right? Right. Long term ageing for any wine has always been a bit of a crap shoot, so many factors involved and there has never been any kind of guarantee that the wine will in fact get better with time. Seeing as the majority of wine buyers here in the United States purchase wines to be consumed within days, well once again this is more of a “problem” for a tiny sector of the wine drinking public. A loud sector but tiny none the less.

 Did white Burgundy have an issue with premature oxidation like ten years ago, (even longer actually as it was the wines from the late nineties that were most affected)? Yes, and there have been numerous suggestions or guesses as to what was the culprit; everything from faulty corks, low sulfur levels, global warming, winemakers trying to bank on the global popularity of rich, ripe Chardonnay and pushing extraction or excessively stirring of the lees, even the shift away from pesticides in favor of more natural farming has been tossed about. The truth is, many feel it was somewhat a perfect storm of several of those things coming together that brought those wines to an early demise. No one knows why it happened, and anyone that tries to tell you they know, well they are full of shit. The one thing that has always bothered me, about all prognosticating is, if those wines were in fact pushed, ripe, rich and manipulated in such a way as to appeal to the international palate, (and likely why they showed well in those slurp and spit mass tastings) why were those crusty or archaic life expectancy timelines not adjusted? What was to be gained by more time in the bottle? Fat? Dropping of already soft acids? Why the hell were these newly plushy wines being saddled with old timey expectations of longevity? I’d like to suggest that another little culprit might have been history and tradition. We’ve always cellared these, so cellar them we shall. 

After a recent white Burgundy event I held at the store I had one of those wine board collector people in my face, all smug and glib asking me with a chuckle, “So, how many of them were Premoxed?” and I was very happy to report, “Not one”. Look, I’ve had very little experience with the wines that were affected, I didn’t fall madly in love with Burgundy until 2003 and whatever problem there may have been was already being tinkered with. Not to mention the fact that we as a store have never been fans of that International Style Chardonnay and have stuck with the more traditional small producers that were some of the first to hunker down and try and figure out what was happening. You take your Burgundy clues from the big houses, the Drouhins and Jodots, Giridans and Leflaives….well, you get what they paid for. That and I just so happen to enjoy the fresher fruit and zingy acidity of white Burgundy when it’s young so I wasn’t hording the stuff anyway.  Anyone in love with the idea of stashing away wines in their cellar, hoping that they will magically become something sexier, softer, more complex and sultry…well I can dig that, but maybe actually taste the wine before locking it up for the long haul. Feel it roll around in your mouth and then decide if it needs more time….just a thought. Not everything gets better and maybe what you loved about that wine will wither away, shrivel and dry up while you read those now out of print books on how and when to cellar. 

To truly understand French wines is to be tasting them, all the time, and the fact is, White Burgundy doesn’t need as much time as they used to. Collectors can wax rhapsodic about how you used to have to age great white Burgundy for ten years before they hit their stride, well there used to be Penny Candy and Encyclopedia Britannica salesmen used to come to your front door too, times they are a changing. How about not slapping a scarlet letter on the wines for what they aren’t now and embrace them for what they are, damn tasty wines that you don’t have to stock away for a decade?! I would say that is a huge win….you know, for the rest of us. 

We are tasting Burgundy in the shop all the time. New vintages, new producers, the wines are in front of me several times a week and I too can see changes but the difference between me and those hall monitor, “You are out without a pass” people, I see them as very positive ones much more suited to broader population of wine drinker. New generation of winemakers, warmer climate, cleaner cellars these too are a perfect storm coming together and the wines are showing focus, softer acidity, broader expression and at a younger age. Still very Burgundian, and I can say that seeing as they are like from Burgundy and all, still true to their place but much more agreeable at early stages and don’t require the long-term to show you what they’ve got. All good in my book, kind of one of those, “But the good news is” deals. White Burgundy might not age as long as it used to, but the upside is, they don’t have to. 

My Current Favorites. Ready, Racy and So Not Premoxed

2011 Patrick Piuze Petit Chablis($18.99)
We were introduced to this thrilling producer a couple vintages ago and I have to say, he is one of the most exciting winemakers in France right now. A long time winemaker in Chablis Patrick has a true understanding of cool climate Chardonnay and an eye for tradition. Preferring wines that speak of their place to wines of fleshy fruit and toasty oak. This vintage of Petit Chablis shows all that limestone and mineral that we crave in Chablis but with a more gentle and approachable roundness of citrus fruit.

2011 Patrick Piuze Terroir de Chablis Chablis ($17.99)
A blend of several vineyards this is Patrick’s tribute to classic Chablis. A wine that he believes expresses the soil that can come from one place and one place only and I can tell you, I’ve had Premier Cru Chablis that isn’t as good as this one. Green apples, seashells, salty uncooked bread dough and gum tingling acidity. Stunning wine that is begging for scallops in butter sauce. 

2010 Herve Azo Chablis ($20.99)
The wines from this estate seem to get more refined and more defined with each vintage and after running through the 2010s I was floored by the breadth of flavor and the nearly pristine clarity. Another wine where I can say I’ve had many much more expensive Chablis from other, more famous estates that cannot come close to what this village level wine is packing. Lovely aromas of stones, citrus and fresh cut tart apple, full and heavy in the mouth but with the perfect amount of freshness and lift on the palate.

2010 Herve Azo 1er Cru Vau de Vey Chablis ($27.99)
We poured this wine at our recent Chablis event and I stood back as I watched nearly every person in the tasting room stick their nose in the glass and let out an audible groan. Ever wonder if there is really that big a difference between village level and Premier Cru? Well with this producer you sure as hell can and do. Deep, stony, alluring, palate staining and with a bready, yeasty flavor that lingers long, long after the wines has vanished from you glass.

 2010 Les Heritiers du Comte Lafon 2010 Vire-Clesse ($34.99)
A second property for famed white Burgundy producer Dominique Lafon, considered by many a master of Chardonnay. The Viré-Clessé AOC, created in 1999, is located in the northern part of the Mâconnais subregion, north of the town of Macon, just south of the Chalonnaise. It is the domaine’s most recent acquisition. There is an impressive aromatic intensity. Lovely mineral flavors with just the right impression of sweet fruit. This wine is drinking perfect now, you could tuck it away for a couple years and let it flesh out, become weightier but thankfully, you don’t need to.

2009 DEux Montille 2009 Saint-Aubin 1er Cru Sur Gamay ($41.99)
The Deux Montille label is a joint venture between Alix and Etienne Montille, the children of Domaine de Montille where Etienne is in charge of making the red wine and Alix the whites. We’ve long admired Alix’s hand with Chardonnay, the way she is able to get amazing concentration without the wines ever feeling heavy or pushed and this Saint-Aubin shows perfectly her astounding talent with making beautiful white Burgundy. Explosive aromatics of apple, pears, minerals, citrus and toasted nuts. On the palate the wine is almost painfully deep, warmed butter and more toasted nuts but with a sexy bit of spice that brings together all that fruit and savory flavors. Powerful white wine that goes on forever.

2009 Aliane Meursault Vieilles Vignes ($39.99)
One of Randy’s favorite white wines last year, one that upon tasting it inspired him to buy a bottle that night and ask his wife to make a roasted chicken to serve with it. Meursault can be rich, should be a little rich in fact but some tend to cross that line into super-rich, this one does not. Perfect pitch and balance, big bold fruit, warm toasty and nutty flavors but with that little bite of acidity and runs along the sides of your tongue and keep everything in balance. In 2009 they were able to purchase even more fruit, in turn make more wine and in turn they dropped the price by over $5.00 a bottle. Great vintage, gorgeous wine and for less money. Score! 

There. A little wine stuff on my wine blog...


Wayne Young said...

OMG there's so much I have to say about this subject my head is spinning with where to begin...
--Our winemaker's theory is the exhaustion of organic material in Burgundy's soil after years of intense farming and outrageous use of chemicals (which may explain why smaller, more natural producers are faring better in this S#*tstorm)...
--IMHO (and I have a blog post coming someday on this) Great Wines, not just great bottles of wine, MUST have a dimension of time: They must show an arc of development/improvement with bottle age. A wine of this status (and this price!) has to show something with age. If it falls apart in a couple years, what's the difference between that wine and a simple supermarket wine?
--I love Chablis, if it's unoaked.
--I want to taste the rest of these wines with you to show me the way because in my limited experience I have found few that really turn me on, regardless of Oxidation, premature or not.

Thomas said...

Interesting, Sam, that your picks are to the north of the region.

Wayne: when you can define "great wine" you will have "unlimited" your experience.

Samantha Dugan said...

Now why did I know you might have a thing or two to say about this my fellow white wine zealot. When I was there in Italy with you we had a couple brief conversations about white Burgundy and I could tell that we would need to do some tasting together to really get into it.

I think your winemaker is right, on one of the reasons the wines went wonky, but I also believe that there are several factors that played into the problem so I'm unwilling to say it was X or Y...think it was both with a dash of C & Q.

I agree with you that for wines to be tossed into the great category they need to be able to age. The thing is, how long and do they need to be? I think that was my point here. I sell wine to the average consumer far more than the collector in our store and I can and will continue to tell them that this wine or that hold up for a couple years in the cellar, (although most of them are buying that wine to drink that week, if not that night so I'm kinda blowin' hot air there, but I still do it) because I know the wines I've brought in the store and have, through the years, seen how they develop....just not sure that most of my customers are necessarily going to dig the wines as much with more time in the bottle. In fact lots of them have even mentioned that they miss the vibrancy, can appreciate the subtle freshness and acidity in the older wines, but prefer the more grippy, racy and lively wines in their youth. Over time I've begun to feel the same way...

Cooler climate palate through and through. Been that way since the beginning of my wine life and seem to be getting even more so in my "middle age".

Wayne Young said...

I cannot WAIT for the day when I can sit with you and try to understand White Burgundy (but I have a feelin we MIGHT not see eye-to-eye). And I totally agree with you about everything you wrote: It's not just one or two elements, but a melange of things... That the ability to age is marginal when selling wine to the average consumer... That there is nothing wrong with good wines being ready to drink earlier.
BUT (you knew that was coming)
When you have $200-$300 bottles of what are ostensibly the world's greatest white wines going south after a year or two, the people who are investing in those wines ARE looking for them to age, and change and improve.
I said in another blog somewhere that if I were a freak about white Burgundy because of its ability to age and become more complex with time, at this point I'd consider buying a box of high-quality Friulano instead of one bottle of Montrachet and enjoy now AND later.

And Thomas, I don't think one needs unlimited experience to understand the parameters for separating really good wine from the "Great Wines". Understanding those minimum requirements are what bump really good into Great.

Thomas said...

I'm sorry, Sam, but no one, not even the "great" wine critics, have come up with a definition for "great wine."

All I ever read and hear are things like, "a great wine should..."

Who says that it should be so and so, and by what standards have those "shoulds" been established? If you don't apply codified standards, how can you apply levels of agreed-upon greatness? What's more, why can't some varieties be considered great and others not?

Methinks that those who classify wine as "great" are simply following a mix of the tradition of what was claimed great in the past plus their own subjective concept of what constitutes greatness (which may be skewed by tradition).

What was considered great wine in ancient times would not be considered drinkable today...oh wait: I forgot about the orange wines...

webb said...

What is all this yammering about wine? I came for Sam to talk sexy ... what's going on here?

Samantha Dugan said...

Ah yes, yet another too often stain chucked at White Burgundy, "You have to spend hundreds to get the good stuff" not true and yes my dear friend, we are going to have to sit side by side and taste wine together, agreeing or not, to talk about that too. Absolutely false that you have to spend a ton of cash to drink 'great' white Burgundy...period.

Great wine is like porn...or sexy, can't define it but I know it when I see/feel it. There are lots of wines I would call great, everything from Chablis to Beaujolais, fancy pants critic or not.

That has got to be one of my favorite comments ever. Good eye there lady. This was a newsletter piece that I snarked, (aka me'd) up to post here. Is something I think a lot about and figured I could post some wine crud so you and the others, (not wine pros or dorks) might accidentally learn a thing or two about wine in between my regular posting. Think of it as a dose of medication that you rarely have to take. Forgive me?

Sara Louise said...

I want you to come and visit The LPV and come to the wine bar with me. We'll go everyday and sips loads and you can chat with the owner Pierre-Edward. It would be EPIC!!!

Wayne Young said...

Now don't go puttin words in my mouth, Sam! I never said you "have to spend a lot to get the good stuff"... I said that wines that DO cost a lot SHOULD have the ability to age, ESPECIALLY if they have a reputation for aging well. That's what is expected from those pricy monsters. Grab yourself a bottle of reasonably-priced Chablis (or Friulano, or Vermentino, or whateva) and forget it in the cellar for a few years and then open up that sexy and stunningly complex wine, well that's a huge WIN... and it happens, no doubt!
And I will continue to differ here with you and with Thomas: Without the dimension of age, wine is merely very good. No other beverage has this ability. That makes it crucial. I believe that this element separates great wine from all the rest... The "arc" of life and development from youth to maturity to graceful old age.

Winey the Elder said...

And you write about wine too? My, you are a sweet, fine thing aren't you!

The comment 'debate" reminds of a Dory Previn song, from many vendages ago:

loved i two wines (men)
equally well
though they were different
as heaven and hell
one was an artist
one drove a truck
one would make love
the other would fuck

Room enough for both, no? And premox? To avoid it I just think of baseball, changing a tire or what I had for breakfast.

I look forward to trying these wines; my tongue so loves the tingle of tautly placed acidity.


Thomas said...


That's exactly what I mean about the phrase "great wine."

How can you think any particular wine is "great" if I do not think it is?

There has to be a better way to identify greatness or a better way to communicate one's preferences--or both!


I agree that longevity is crucial to a wine's appeal, but if what you say is true about longevity creating greatness, then you must:

1. accurately predict how long a wine will age (most people use past experience rather than to evaluate the wine in front of them as if in a vaccuum).

2. determine when it has reached its peak of greatness (few people wait that long; and what of others who wait too long?).

3.have everyone agree (not likely based solely on the merits of the wine and not on past vintages).

Besides, how long is "the dimension of age?"

Is it the same age for all wines and all colors?

If not, then where's the list to guide us?

Chasing greatness is a construct and until such matters are codified, they remain illusive constructs.

Samantha Dugan said...

Dude....we would get in so much trouble. Let's do it!

Not putting words in YOUR mouth per se, but it is a huge misconception about Burgundy, that all the wines are wicked expensive and it is not at all true. Are there crazy expensive ones, fuck yeah there are but those are not the wines that I talk about or that move me. Nor are the ones we stock at the store and our customers buy, that was who I wrote this piece for.

Winey the Elder,
I need to find that song. Sounds as if it were written by a very, very kindred spirit. Thank you sweet one, for the tip.

It's easy, because I'm right and your wrong. Silly head...

Sorry I didn't have more time this morning everyone. Started writing a new piece, that I hope to finish tonight, and it sucked me in...

Thomas said...


you took the words right outta my mouth...

Samantha Dugan said...

Putting things in Wayne's, taking words from yours...I seem to be spending lots of time in everyone's mouth. Somehow I thought it would feel cooler...wetter at the very least.

Thomas said...

You also seem to have picked up my drift; or was that unintentional?

Samantha Dugan said...

Oh I was feelin' ya baby.

Thomas said...

I wonder how Ron feels about this new situation...

Thomas said...

Incidentally, it reached 99 here today, and that's just the humidity!


Samantha Dugan said...

Feels to be about 72 here today, glorious.