by Juel Mahoney
One way to make a Burgundy winemaker choke on their Volnay is to describe a wine with the French word “buvabilité”. Essentially it means “drinkability”. Apparently, we were told, French wine merchants use this word a lot. It seems to drive winemakers crazy: “Ahh, this wine is very drinkable!”
Ok… fair point.
UK merchants have their own words; for example, we tend to overuse the word “minerality” – to the point of nonsense. The definition of “minerality” is more difficult to pin down than the definition of “terroir”. It is something that can be tasted and agreed upon but difficult to explain (something like the taste of stones. And yes, before you ask, I did a lick a few!) There is a strong sense of “minerality” in many of the Beaune whites in 2011, ultimately giving the wines a mouth-watering cleansing character.
In fact, the 2011 wines we tasted were very “buvable” (drinkable), mineral and more-ish.
But my experience of Pommard is that it is not “buvable” or “mineral” – it can be heavy on the black fruit, charmless and old-fashioned. It is also – quite bluntly – too expensive and trades on its name. As our Fine Wine Director, Ben Collins says, Pommard can be “agricultural” and a bit rough.
What a revelation to taste 2011 Pommard…
Just as we found in Meursault, Pommard is having an about-face in the 2011 vintage.
To be fair, Pommard has always been a sturdy style of red wine with strong tannins because of the clay-dominant soils. If reds from the Cote de Nuits are light on their feet like ballerinas, then wines from here have been more like broad-shouldered rugby players.
The soils may be heavier here but they are also rich in iron. The change in winemaking and the clarity and concentration of fruit in the 2011 vintage expressed the iron-rich soil in its sinewy iodine and rosehip character. Gone are the rough tannins, what we saw were lighter and fleshier wines with a delicious savoury, rather than fruity, character. A good example is Pommard 2011 by the small family-run domaine of Pascal Bouley.
Pommard was often mentioned by winemakers in somber tones; this particular appellation has had a particularly hard time recently. The yields in 2012 are on average down by 70% and very soon it will be a crisis – three small vintages are now beginning to hit hard. With the French Agricole banks squeezing credit harder than a grape in a vice, there is a real pressure on small producers. Some may have excellent vineyards passed down the generations but they still need income and without anything to sell there is the potential for a serious cash flow problem. When will this affect the price?
The problem with small yields for the Burgundy wine lover is that 2011 is an excellent, but small, vintage – there just won’t be a lot of it. As mentioned in the first post, the story of the yields raises some questions and we expect to see very little wine over the next two years with a pressure on older stock. For the 2011 vintage, this is not quite yet a problem. Not quite yet. But I do believe that, with their excellent balance of acidity and concentrated fruit, 2011 is a year to enjoy while it lasts.
Good examples that are (not yet) expensive:
Pommard 2011, Domaine Pascal Bouley – Light red fruit characters with a bit more backbone and a touch of spicy minerality. Good, supple ripe tannins. A depth resulting from 70 years old vines.
Pommard Cuvee Carmen, Domaine Latour-Giraud
Black forest fruit on the nose with a ripe finish of soft strawberries. Lots of structure and will age beautifully. (Jean-Pierre Latour has bought 2/3 of a hectare in Pommard this year and sold 1.5 hectares from his grandmother in the Marenges. A dream deal it seems to me…)