2007: An Excellent Vintage for White Burgundies

White Burgundy fans should be very happy. The 2007 vintage produced a wide array–from Chablis to Mâcon–of excellent white wines. And the world-wide economic crisis means that prices are lower. That combination is a “perfect tranquility” for Burgundy lovers.

I reported my preliminary assessment of the vintage last fall  and update it now for the whites since they are especially appealing and are starting to arrive on retailers’ shelves. They are far better than anyone would have predicted based on the weather that year.

Since bottling, the white wines have taken on more concentration compared to when I tasted them in barrel. Pierre Morey, winemaker at his eponymous domaine and until recently at Domaine Leflaive and one of Burgundy’s greatest white wine makers, felt there was giant step up between how the wines tasted immediately after harvest, when the malic acid levels dominated, and the balance they acquired after malolactic transformation, a bacterial process that transformed the harder, malic acid, to a softer, creamier, lactic acid.

Prices are Down

Louis Fabrice Latour, head of Maison Louis Latour, one of Burgundy’s best négociants, is responding to the downturn in wine buying by slashing prices of their 2007s by up to 50%, back to price levels not seen since the 1999 vintage. He has priced their 2007 Pouilly-Fuissé to sell at $20 retail, their 2007 village Meursault, a very fine wine, at $30 and their exquisite 2007 Corton-Charlemagne, at $100.

Latour noted that the decrease in Bordeaux’s en primeur prices helped growers in Burgundy realize that they needed to lower prices of the grapes they sold to négociants. Latour notes that the growers in Burgundy–farmers really–tend to be more provincial. “They don’t understand the impact of General Motor’s demise. But when they see that Chateau Lafite-Rothschild drops its price by 40%, they get the picture,” according to Latour.

Curiously, a vintage is usually graded–and priced–by the stature of the red wines. And although I find the 2007 reds forward and charming, they lack the power and grandeur of the 2005s and even 2006s. (A telling sign of the vintage is that Maison Latour made none of its flagship red, Corton Grancey in 2007, preferring to declassify it, to maintain its reputation). Hence, prices for the whites will also be held down by the perceived quality of the 2007 reds. The combination of excellent white wines and lower prices makes this a vintage for consumers to examine seriously, tasting and buying if possible.

All Good Comes to He or She Who Waits

The 2007 growing season was bizarre even by Burgundy standards. There was “August in April” followed by virtually continuous cool damp weather. As a result, even though the flowering was early and predicted an early harvest, ripening of the Chardonnay was delayed and the harvest of the whites, which usually precedes that of the reds, actually followed the Pinot Noir. Some growers panicked and harvested their Chardonnay before it was fully ripe, fearing that if they waited, autumn rains would ruin the already marginal harvest. But those who waited made an array of excellent whites with sufficient concentration and ripeness to balance the vibrant acidity common to the vintage. The best have a wonderful focus and balance that suggests they will evolve beautifully. Those growers who were worried about leaving the Chardonnay on the vine for so long made wines that are lean and hard because inadequate ripeness imparts a hollowness that fails to balance the acidity.

Jacques Lardière, Maison Louis Jadot’s masterful winemaker (who justcompleted his 39th vintage with them), notes, “It’s always better to wait to harvest to gain even a half degree of ripeness than to chapitalize, even though you risk losing a portion of the crop.”

Nadine Gublin, winemaker at Domaine Jacques Prieur, another Domaine that made stunning whites in 2007, said their secret was, “to wait.” Her harvest of whites finished two weeks after the reds.

In general–and remember this is Burgundy, so generalizations are far more hazardous than in other areas–the 2007 whites are classically structured with cutting, laser-like acidity that propels the flavors through the finish. According to Pierre Morey, “acidity is the vertebral column of wine.” They lack the immediate opulence of the 2005 whites–and you would certainly never confuse them with the ripeness of California Chardonnay–but their mouth-cleansing briskness reawakens the palate during a meal.

Although Lardière says that wines from Burgundy should always reflect the appellation, even in an abnormal year like 2003, I found that the 2007 whites are perfectly transparent as to their origins. The wines from Puligny-Montrachet have the minerality that commune is known for, while those neighboring Chassagne-Montrachet transmit the slightly earthier character of wines from that village.

Chablis Rocks in 2007

The 2007 Chablis are the best since the stunning 2002 vintage. Even at the village level, the wines convey the quintessential flintiness, length and elegance of Chablis. William Fevre, one of the region’s leading producers, made a marvelous village Chablis, labeled Champs Royaux, from their grapes ($25). Maison Joseph Drouhin, a well-respected négociant located in Beaune, is one of Chablis’ largest land-owners and typically makes stellar wines from there. Their estate-bottled Domaine de Vaudon Chablis–another village wine–is an outstanding value in 2007–about $29. One of the bargains of the vintage is the village Chablis from Simmonet-Febvre ($18). Domaine Christian Moreau, located in Chablis, made a jaw-dropping range of superb wines from their village wine up to an impressive group of Grand Cru Chablis (many previously reviewed and available in the review archives section of WRO).

Côte Chalonnaise and Mâconnaise

In the Côte Chalonnaise and Mâconnaise, as with the rest of Burgundy in general and especially in 2007, quality varies according to producer. Maison Joseph Faiveley, a leading Cote d’Or négociant based in Nuits-St. Georges, has extensive holdings in Mercury and made wonderful white wines from that village, usually known for its reds, in the Côte Chalonnaise. Their Clos Rochette ($30) is especially appealing. Also from the Côte Chalonnaise, look for the Rully ($21) from Maison Joseph Drouhin for a well-priced Chardonnay based wine.

The Château de Fuissé, located in Côte Mâconnaise, made a sensational quartet of distinctive Pouilly Fuissé that demonstrate the range of wines that come from that important appellation. One, labeled Tête de Cru ($35), is a blend of 14 plots and most representative of the area. The three others ($40-50) are from single vineyards, Les Combettes, Le Clos and Les Brulées, and show the fascinating diversity of the appellation. All are easy to recommend. Less complex, but more affordable, and still easy to recommend, are the very good Pouilly-Fuissé from Maison Joseph Drouhin and Maison Louis Jadot (each about $26).

Côte d’Or

Maison Louis Latour’s 2007 whites were excellent across the board, but I urge you to keep your eyes out for two of their 1er Cru Meursault, Meursault Blagny ($52) and Meursault Gouttes d’Or ($57), their Chassagne-Montrachet Les Caillerets ($55) and their show stopping Corton-Charlemagne ($100). A fascinating idea for a tasting–or dinner–is a comparison of Latour’s village Meursault, Chassagne- and Puligny-Montrachet ($30-40 each)–each made exclusively from Chardonnay, to etch in your mind the dramatic differences among these three appellations.

Maison Louis Jadot, as usual, turned out an impressive lineup of white wines from the Côte d’Or in 2007. Don’t miss their Meursault Genevrières ($80) or their Puligny-Montrachet Clos de la Garenne, Domaine Duc de Magenta ($85). From a less exalted real estate, look for Jadot’s Savigny-lès-Beaune, Clos des Guettes ($39) or the Pernand-Vergelesses Clos de la Croix de Pierre ($36), an extraordinary Chardonnay-based wine for the price. For the lucky few not affected by the recession, Jadot’s 2007 Chevalier Montrachet “Les Demoiselles” is heavenly. The price ($390) reflects its consistent quality and high world-wide demand for this gorgeous wine.

Domaine Leflaive was another notable across the board success in 2007, from their Bourgogne Blanc ($40) to their sensational Puligny-Montrachet Les Clavoillon ($85) to their Grand Cru-like Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles ($175). And don’t forget their relatively new addition to the their line-up, a Macon-Verze ($32), which is more proof that the Mâconnaise fared well in this vintage.

Nadine Gublin at Domaine Jacques Prieur makes a village Meursault from their Clos de Mazeray vineyard that is more complex and focused than most producer’s 1er Cru wines. So if you run across the 2007 ($65), grab a bottle. It’s great white Burgundy. Prieur’s other whites are also wonderful in 2007.

Another producer whose wines usually deliver more than the appellation would indicate is Domaine Pierre Morey and the négociant firm, Morey-Blanc, he runs with his daughter. From Morey-Blanc, their 2007 Meursault-Genevrières ($165)delivers the gingerbread-like spice characteristic of that vineyard and their Corton-Charlemagne ($200), a blend of three plots, is mind-boggling. Both are thrilling. From Domaine Pierre Morey (about $100), you could close your eyes and point at any of his Meursault and not go wrong.

Bourgogne Blanc

In a spectacular year, such as 2005, the straight Bourgogne Blanc and Bourgogne Rouge offered a great value virtually across the board. But in a year like 2007, a consumer needs to tread very carefully in this category lest you wind up with acidic, hollow wines.

Drouhin’s 2007 Bourgogne Blanc “La Foret” ($14) is a remarkably complex and ripe wine at an extraordinary price. It’s a wine to buy by the case.

I also recommend Alex Gambal’s 2007 Bourgogne Blanc ($25). It’sanother wine that delivers more than its appellation suggests, I suspect because it comes entirely from Cote d’Or Chardonnay (the law allows Bourgogne Blanc to be made from grapes grown throughout Burgundy, including the Côte Chalonnaise and Côte Mâconnaise). Gambal waited to harvest the Chardonnay in 2007– and it paid off. I guess it’s in his nature to gamble.

July 28, 2009