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Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
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Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.

2003 DROUHIN BURGUNDIES – VARIETAL CHARACTER IN A WARM YEAR,  RE NEW ZEALAND


As we seek to determine appropriate styles for pinot noir in New Zealand,  it is vital for us to monitor contemporary trends in the home of burgundy,  France.   2003 represents hot-year versions of the grape,  yet if the wines are anything like the best from the not-too-distant northern Rhone Valley syrahs,  the best 2003 burgundies will be remarkable,  combining size and richness with good aromatics and true varietal definition.  It is on this latter point that some of our New Zealand proponents of ‘big’ pinots have come unstuck,  the wines being large round anonymous reds tending to heavy,  rather than fragrant and exciting varietal ones.  

Likewise,  in Otago in 2002,  the vintage produced some big wines,  which were uncritically praised at the time.  In truth,  some were over-size for fine pinot.  The whole evolution of pinot in New Zealand has been unduly influenced by confusing size with quality – a reflection perhaps of the extent to which the national wine sub-conscious has been influenced by decades of exposure to Australian reds.  In contrast,  Drouhin is one of the great stylists in Burgundy,  noted for beautiful wines – which is after all the hallmark of fine pinot noir.  It is therefore of great interest to see exactly what he has produced in 2003,  and what they can teach us about hot-year,  presumably bigger,  pinots.  

I do not have ready access to a cross-section of burgundy reviewers,  to abstract a summary of the 2003 vintage.  But Pierre Rovani,  who contributes the Burgundy notes to Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate,  has provided a good scene-setter,  touching on a number of key points troubling New Zealand pinots (e.g. the desirability of physiologically mature flavours).  His thoughts in Issue 160 (paraphrased) are:

The 2003s from the Cote de Nuits offer more exceptional wines than any vintage since 1990.  In addition, many 2003s will be tremendously ageworthy.  Fifty years from now,  lovers of Burgundy will extol the greatness of the 2003 vintage,  much as we have the 1947s and 1959s.  However,  what they will not recall about the 2003s,  is how many wines from these vintages were unsuccessful.

A freakish year for Burgundy,  2003 can be summarized as the result of spring frosts that severely lowered yields,  a record setting heat wave – from June through the end of August – a lack of precipitation,  and a scalding,  grape-burning sun.  The region’s vineyards experienced weather conditions that had not occurred in recorded history.

Vine age also played a significant role.  Because vines can sustain high temperatures when water (or humidity) is accessible,  old vines with deep roots fared far better than young vines.
 [ Old vines seems to mean 20 + ]  Virtually every grower emphasized that the oldest vines handled 2003's extreme conditions best.

Sadly,  some of the hardest working vignerons were not always the most successful in 2003.  For the first time in memory,  low yields were a hindrance.  Unlike every Burgundian vintage anyone alive can recall,  2003 benefited those whose vines ripened slowly,  requiring additional hang-time.  Many of Burgundy’s most famous growers were compelled to harvest exceptionally early because there is a direct correlation between low yields and rapid sugar accumulation.  Those who had pruned for lower yields,  thinned canopies,  and pulled leaves frequently,  were forced to harvest early.

Attaining high natural potential alcohol levels (grape sugars) was easy in 2003.  Physiological ripeness was another issue ... waiting for physiological ripeness was mandatory if success was to be achieved.  The rains of August 15th (only in the northern half of the Cote de Nuits) and August 28th (coupled with the cooler temperatures and morning dews that followed) revitalized vines and their ability to ripen
[ the grapes ].  Numerous vignerons in the Cote de Nuits firmly stated that their fruit was not ripe until the first days of September.

While rot was a non-issue in this vintage,  the scalding sun,  heat,  and drought of 2003 resulted in many sun-burned or shrivelled berries.  Potential sources of roasted,  bitter flavours,  these berries needed to be methodically culled out.  

Another important factor in the vinification of the 2003s was having faith in the integrity of the fruit.  With few exceptions,  most Burgundians shortened pre-fermentation macerations,  eschewed or greatly diminished punch-downs (pigeages) as well as pump-overs (remontages),  and allowed short fermentations.  In effect,  they were taking the least they could out of the fruit they had harvested.  If the fruit was ripe that was a mistake.

Those producers who had deep-rooted old vines located in terroirs whose characteristics meshed with 2003's peculiarities,  who harvested ripe fruit,  sorted assiduously,  and then vinified as well as aged the resulting wines traditionally,  were capable of fashioning amazing Burgundies.  The aromatic richness of the finest 2003s is awe-inspiring,  as are their textures,  fruit density,  and lengthy finishes.  While many of the anticipated maturity dates reach 20-30 years into the future,  with proper cellaring conditions,  some of these wines will be glorious in 50+ years.

Traditional vineyard hierarchies must be ignored with the 2003s.  There are innumerable cases of lowly appellations (Bourgognes,  or simple village wines) that turned out superior to premier or grand cru offerings,  even from the same estate.  Therefore,  this is a freakish,  very unusual year.


We (23 people) tasted 10 Drouhin wines,  and two New Zealand pinots from different regions,  blind.  The views that follow are not representative of the group,  though having good discussion contributed greatly to the writing-up process.

PINOT NOIR

2003  Drouhin Beaune-Greves Premier Cru
2003  Drouhin Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru
2003  Drouhin Bourgogne Laforet
2003  Drouhin Clos de la Roche Grand Cru
2003  Drouhin Clos des Mouches Premier Cru
2003  Drouhin Echezeaux Grand Cru
  2003  Drouhin Pommard
2003  Drouhin Santenay-Beaurepaire Premier Cru
2003  Drouhin Volnay
2003  Drouhin Vosne-Romanee
2003  Felton Road Pinot Noir
2003  Greenhough Pinot Noir Nelson

2003  Drouhin Echezeaux Grand Cru   19  ()
Vosne-Romanee,  Cote de Nuits,  Burgundy,  France:  13%;  $163   [ cork;  a Drouhin domaine wine,  the vineyard adjoining Clos Vougeot,  average vine age 25 – 30 years;  hand-harvested,  fermentation (some stalks) and cuvaison in open wooden vats 18 – 20 days;  c. 18 months in barrels understood to be about 1/3 new;  Wine Direct the NZ agents;  www.drouhin.com ]
Good ruby,  in the middle of the ‘03s for depth.  Bouquet on this wine is the most clearly varietal in the set,  with deepest red rose florals far darker and sweeter than buddleia,  nearer violets.  The florals meld with superb cherry-plum notes which are really warm and sun-drenched,  but not roti.  Palate is simply great pinot,  darkest cherries,  darkest plums,  a touch of almond (and brett),  finegrain tannins in abundance.  This wine is velvety and rich,  about as big as pinot can be before southern Rhone thoughts intrude,  a great illustration of a drought year pinot which is still vividly fresh,  floral and varietal.  Cellar to 30 years.  Wonderful.  GK 03/06

2003  Drouhin Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru   18 ½ +  ()
Chambolle-Musigny,  Cote de Nuits,  Burgundy,  France:  13%;  $233   [ cork;  a Drouhin domaine wine,  the vineyard between le Chambertin and le Musigny,  average vine age 25 – 30 years;  hand-harvested,  fermentation (some stalks) and cuvaison in open wooden vats presumably a similar time to the 18 – 20 days given for Echezeaux;  c. 18 months in barrels understood to be about 1/3 new;  Wine Direct the NZ agents;  www.drouhin.com ]
Good ruby,  a little deeper than the Echezeaux.  Initially opened,  this wine is a little reticent,  but it is clean,  not over-oaked,  more clearly a hot year wine than the Echezeaux,  with just a hint of roti.  Palate however is so rich it seems almost sweet,  with a wonderful length of fruit flavour.  The roti thread is there though,  and perhaps there is a subtlest hint of caramel in deep cherry and darkest plum fruit,  plus mushroom and spice flavours,  and dense furry tannins.  This will cellar to 40 years,  on the richness and tannin.  Alcohol is markedly more than the nominal 13% on all but one of these French labels.  GK 03/06

2003  Drouhin Clos de la Roche Grand Cru   18 ½  ()
Morey-St Denis,  Cote de Nuits,  Burgundy,  France:  13%;  $135   [ cork;  named for the limestone outcrop in the vineyard;  hand-harvested,  fermentation (some stalks)  and cuvaison in open wooden vats 18 – 20 days;  c. 18 months in barrels understood to be about 1/3 new;  Wine Direct the NZ agents;  www.drouhin.com ]
Ruby,  a more typical good pinot colour,  the lightest in the tasting.  Bouquet is tending understated,  but is perhaps the purest and subtlest expression of pinot here.  The floral component is sweet and lovely,  more in the boronia camp (but perhaps below threshold for many tasters),  with no roti edges at all.  Later bouquet and palate is velvety red and black cherry fruit,  with the furry tannins of the dry year,  but the fruit succulence incorporating them effortlessly,  all finishing on good acid.  It seems quite the freshest among the French wines in the set,  perhaps because it is not as massive as the two top wines.  Cellar 15 – 25 years.  GK 03/06

2003  Greenhough Pinot Noir Nelson   18 ½  ()
Waimea Valley,  Nelson,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $29   [ screwcap ]
Big ruby,  a little deeper than the Bonnes Mares.  This wine displays a big and clearly varietal bouquet from the moment it is opened.  It takes a while to come into focus,  though,  and one finally realises that it is a little different,  because of a faint spearmint edge to buddleia florals and blackboy peach fruit.  Palate is fresh and full of cherry / blackboy succulence,  with wonderfully understated and careful oak,  matching the French.  Where the wine doesn't quite match the French ‘03s is in its fresh temperate-climate florals and aromatics,  which make it seem a little cooler,  but only in the context of the reduced aromatics some of these drought-year French wines show.  The finish is superb.  This dramatically varietal wine was rated top wine by seven of 23 tasters on the night (blind),  and recognised as not French by only two.  It therefore represents stunning value at $29.  Still sparingly available.  Cellar 10 – 15 years.  GK 03/06

2003  Felton Road Pinot Noir   18 +  ()
Bannockburn,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14%;  $43   [ screwcap;  www.feltonroad.com ]
Big ruby,  a touch of carmine and velvet,  clearly the darkest wine in the tasting,  dubious for pinot noir.  Bouquet is intensely rich and varietal,  but in a cooler-year style than the French wines.  The florals are obvious buddleia and violets,  in black cherries and blackboy peaches,  all quite lifted and aromatic but not minty – just intensely floral.  Fruit on palate is as good as the grand cru wines,  rich,  long and succulent,  the clear-cut varietal character made aromatic by more new oak than the grands crus or the Greenhough.  This is a New Zealand pinot which will cellar for 10 – 20 years.  GK 03/06

2003  Drouhin Pommard   18  ()
Pommard,  Cote de Beaune,  France:  13%;  $60   [ cork;  hand-harvested,  fermentation (some stalks) and cuvaison in both s/s and wooden vats 15 – 18 days;  less than 18 months in mostly older barrels;  Wine Direct the NZ agents;  www.drouhin.com ]
Good ruby,  one of the lighter wines.  In many respects this wine is hard to tell apart from the Clos de la Roche – just a little quieter:  similar dark rose florals,  and cherry and plum fruit but with little or no new oak,  beautifully warm-year varietal.  Palate is plump,  velvety,  the tannins not as obviously furry as lesser-ranked wines,  but not quite as sensuous as the Clos de la Roche – presumably the latter has more new oak.  This wine gives a marvellous taste of both the vintage and the subtle Drouhin style,  at a good price.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 03/06

2003  Drouhin Beaune-Greves Premier Cru   17 ½ +  ()
Beaune,  Cote de Beaune,  France:  13%;  $70   [ cork;  a Drouhin domaine wine,  average vine age c. 20 years,  hand-harvested,  fermentation (some stalks)  and cuvaison in open wooden vats;  up to ‘almost two years’ in barrel;  Wine Direct the NZ agents;  www.drouhin.com ]
Big ruby,  the second deepest of the French wines.  At this point,  the bouquets start to become a bit more drought-year,  with thoughts of Cotes du Rhone arising,  and leathery (+ve) tendencies,  though still fragrant.  Palate is more plummy than cherry,  and the furry tannins are dense in the mouth,  wonderfully ripe.  One has to accept that this is one end of the optimal climatic spectrum for pinot noir,  clearly the opposite of the over-fragrant stalky style of cooler years,  but either can be greatly enjoyable.  The palate on this wine is excellent,  and it too will be a great dinner wine.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 03/06

2003  Drouhin Volnay   17 ½  ()
Volnay,  Cote de Beaune,  Burgundy,  France:  13%;  $50   [ cork;  no info,  but presumably an elevage akin to the Pommard;  Wine Direct the NZ agents;  www.drouhin.com ]
Good ruby,  close to the Echezeaux.  This bouquet is more subdued again than the Pommard,  and clearly losing floral beauty to the hot year.  Even so,  it remains clearly varietal,  with good cherry fruit.  Palate snaps into clearer cherry focus,  with the furry tannins of the year giving a robust wine style more Pommard-like than Volnay typically is.  There is not much new oak visible here,  but the older oak is beautifully pure.  This wine too will cellar well and provide much pleasure at table.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 03/06

2003  Drouhin Clos des Mouches Premier Cru   17  ()
Beaune,  Cote de Beaune,  Burgundy,  France:  13%;  $95   [ a Drouhin domaine producing both red and white wine,  average vine age over 30 years;  the red includes some pinot gris;  hand-harvested,  fermentation (some stalks)  and cuvaison in open wooden vats c. 18 days;  15 – 18 months in barrel with up to 33% new oak;  uniquely amongst the Drouhin reds,  bottled with 55 mm corks – the Drouhins are reputed to be particularly proud of this vineyard;  though mouche generally refers to flies,  locally in earlier times the name was used for bees – the vineyard formerly a favoured hive site;  Wine Direct the NZ agents;  www.drouhin.com ]
Good ruby,  in the middle of the Drouhins.  Bouquet on this wine is a little different from the others,  with a faint mint suggestion reminiscent of the Greenhough,  on quiet slightly roti cherry and plum.  Palate continues the mint,  and thoughts of Martinborough cross my mind.  The tannins are plainer than the top-scoring wines,  and the plummy and blackboy fruit less fresh and varietal.  Even so,  the total package is clearly warm-year pinot,  and tending aromatic on the mint.  This wine really needs to lose some tannin,  and may score more highly in 3 – 5 years.  It will cellar for 10 – 15,  maybe 20 years.  GK 03/06

2003  Drouhin Vosne-Romanee   17  ()
Vosne-Romanee,  Cote de Nuits,  Burgundy,  France:  13%;  $70   [ hand-harvested,  fermentation  and cuvaison in both s/s and wooden vats;  about 18 months in mostly older barrels;  Wine Direct the NZ agents;  www.drouhin.com ]
Good ruby,  a little deeper than the Pommard.  Like the Volnay,  bouquet on this wine though pure,  is losing florals to the drought year.  There is good plummy and faintly leathery fruit,  on subdued oak.  Palate is still clearly pinot though,  in its cherry plus furry tannins style,  without the aromatics of the Mouches.  Some will prefer it more for that,  as pinot noir,  and as with many of these Drouhin ‘03s,  the fruit richness is exemplary.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 03/06

2003  Drouhin Santenay-Beaurepaire Premier Cru   16 ½  ()
Santenay,  Cote de Beaune,  Burgundy,  France:  13%;  $40   [ hand-harvested,  fermentation and cuvaison in open wooden vats up to 14 days;  up to 18 months in mostly older barrels;  Wine Direct the NZ agents;  www.drouhin.com ]
Good ruby,  in the middle of the range,  but older.  Bouquet is lesser on this wine,  with fair red fruits but also some oxidation and brett – more clearly a hot-year wine.  Palate reflects these technical flaws,  and though reasonably rich,  is a little coarser than one would wish in premier cru Burgundy.  Decanting and air helped this wine greatly,  and it was notably better the next day,  so possibly an individual bottle defect,  perhaps slightly corked.  Not sure.  Score gives it the benefit of the doubt,  next day.  Still perfectly good uncritical drinking,  which will cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 03/06

2003  Drouhin Bourgogne Laforet   16  ()
Burgundy,  France:  12.5%;  $25   [ mostly Cote de Beaune,  hand-picked;  fermentation in open wood or s/s vats for up to 16 days;  some old barrel maturation,  some s/s;  no RS;  Wine Direct the NZ agents;  www.drouhin.com ]
Good ruby,  the second lightest.  Bouquet on this wine is clearly ripe pinot,  in a straightforward way:  no florals but slight bush honey,  clear cherry-plum red fruits,  obviously old oak,  a little brett.  Palate is plump,  ripe,  red fruits and noticeable tannins,  but in the old oak is a hint of some too-old barrels,  with coarseness to the finish.  Better in a year or two,  and will cellar longer than might be supposed for the label,  maybe 5 – 10 years.  At the price,  it is a remarkably faithful introduction to the 2003 vintage in Burgundy.  It illustrates beautifully that many New Zealand pinots of comparable price (and some more) are stalky,  thin,  and acid,  and their technical purity is little compensation for the lack of physiological flavour maturity they display.  Stalky pinots are much less food-friendly.  GK 03/06