2004 is widely regarded as the worst Burgundian vintage of the last decade. There was cold, there was hot, there was wet and there was rot. And, for some reason there was an overabundance of ladybugs.
Some believe that this ladybug taint contributed to the compound called methoxypyrazines found in that vintage. But remember, even without ladybugs, this compound,which causes the pee in sauvignon and the bell in cabernet, often shows up in wet or cool years. So, how do you separate one from the other. Muddy flavors? Grilled hazelnuts? I've heard that those can be indentifiers as well. In fact the person who told me this actually keeps jars of crushed bugs in his 'fridge' to keep his nose on guard for the offensive smells.
I loved some 2004s when I first tasted them straight from the cask. I purchased far too few Chandon de Briailles. The village and 1er Crus were drinking early and lushly, but they were all gone by the time I started to ponder the bugginess and the veracity of the theory.
As luck had it, I found myself in the home of Becky and Russell a few weeks back. coinciding with the same June weekend critic Clive Coates held his 2004 ten- year -after tasting. There were to be 100+ examples in front of me. I was going to be well equipped to make my own assessment for this controversial vintage.
On the morning of the tasting --before 80 or so curious vignerons came to check out the bottles - Paul Wasserman, Clive, Jasper Morris, Ben Leroux and I snuck in a few hours of pre-tasting, tasting.
We had samples from all of the Côtes enough to construct an overview. Clive was wise when he summed it up, “It certainly wasn’t a great vintage. And, there was none of the usual bump up in grand terroir. But there’s quite a lot to drink and you don't have to wait on them.”
If you can find the right wines on a list or in a store, remember, this castoff vintage can be a bargain. Volnay (Hello Lafarge!) strutted nicely. Pommard, well, not so much. Savigny did a great job. (Lucien Jacob, Pavelot, Chandon de Briailles, Simon Bize.) Savigny's close neighbor Corton also did well. The news from Nuits was mixed. For example, Chevillon (bitter watercress, bugs or just weather?), Barthod (Les Cras), Rousseau (Clos St. Jacques) and Gouges were startlingly disappointing. Fred Mugnier, on the other hand was yowzerly, plumptuous yet elegant.
Honorable mention goes to: Jadot, Bouchard, Jean Grivot (the Richebourg) Giboulot.Nicolas Rossignol. Serafin.
The whites were a significantly different story. There it was pretty much Grand Cru or bust: The survivors were; Bouchard Chevallier-Montrachet La Cabotte (Jasmine!), Dujac Monts Luisants (Very balanced), Chandon de Briailles Corton (!) and also from Corton, the simply beautiful Bonneau du Martray.
The standouts of the day?
Côtes de Beaune Village and 1er Cru
*Rossignol, Volnay Chevrets
cherry, delicate, life and grit
*Simon Bize Aux Fourneaux
Life, lingering leaf, cocoa, great acidity.
*Comte Lafon Santenot Sandy balance corduroy plush. Medium length and lots of pretty.
Côtes de Beaune Grand Cru
*Domaine Chandon de Briailles Corton Maréchaudes
Just simply beautiful. Stunning. Spectacular and once again, plumptuous nose with patchouli. (Biodynamic in vine and cellar)
Côtes de Nuits, 1er Cru
*Frederick Mugnier, Nuits Saint George, Clos Marechal
This was his first vintage in the Clos and it's terrific. Purely direct but satisfying, entirely a pretty, yet firm wine. There's deep cherry plucked from the tree, slothed over in silk. It's actually kind of sexy.
Côtes de Nuits Grand Cru
* Frederick Mugnier Musigny
This was so Mugnier; that Mugnierness of it all, nit notes of cherry and a direct, drink me-ability, there's a reason he's a star, terribly seductive. Later in the day, it held on to its lovely bones. Young, could take more time, but oh, those roses mixed with the bone marrow of my youth.
* Domaine des Lambrays, Clos de Lambray
Pretty, spice, acid, depth, a mouthful and either some bug or as I saw it, star anise. (Biodynamic in vine and cellar)
* Camille Giroud Latricières-Chambertin
Satisfying, sensible and smart finish to its ride, with a dollop of red clay
*Dujac Clos de la Roche
Nice enough, lively, seems young with a touch of paint thinning volatility, with acid and a good deal of pleasant underleaf.
For a general overview, reds were greatly more yummy than the whites. Grand Cru or village, not that much difference. Many wines had chalky tannins (are those actual tannins or bentonite filtering?). More were brooding rather than sparky.
But were the ladybugs the culprits? The best domaines if bothered by a bug plague would have picked off each one by tweezers, whatever it took. Another thought that few bring up: In 2004 many were still reeling from the super-hot vintage of 2003. The vines were still screaming with fatigue. No one has studied the after effect of extreme weather on the taste of a grape.
Yet, there are some beauties and many fine wines of drinkability. That is why I am always disturbed when I hear other writers/critics warn that a consumer should avoid a vintage. In a difficult year, be more careful. Yes! But avoid? Erase the 2004 existence? What kind of real wine drinker would you be if you did that?
Talent was needed in 2004, for sure. Those who made and picked by recipe were lost. But no matter who or what you blame, (if you must), Burgundy always delivers its challenges. The highs are highs and the lows are low, even in the best of years.