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A Review of Red Burgundy Vintages: 1985


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Another thread discussing the state of red Burgundies has inspired me to give my insights on the current state of the vintages from 1985 on. I spend three weeks in Burgundy each fall tasting at 75-85 domaines and thorughout the rest of the year, I drink Burgundy at least several times a week: to me it is the most exciting and versatile red wine in the world (with apologies to runners-up from the Northern Rhone and Piedmont), a place that Riesling occupies for white wines. But Burgundy is a minefield and often expensive, so not everyone has developed the experience base to sort out the good from the bad.

This was the vintage that kicked off the Renaissance of red Burgundy, although the stage was already being set by the vanguard in earlier vintages. Burgundy was coming off a miserable period: 1984 had been a terrible vintage; 1983 had turned out to be a disappointment because of widespread problems with rot and tannin; from the relatively few conscientious producers, 1982 had produced good wines, but they were not to be long-lasting; 1981 was another very difficult vintage; 1980 was highly mixed, and the 1970s had been largely a dismal decade, both because of weather and because of the prevailing poor practices in the vineyards and the cellars.

1985 did not start out auspiciously, either. There was a very severe freeze early in the year that killed many vines and helped assure that yields would be low. But in the end, 1985 turned out to be a vintage of delicious wines across the board: from the southernmost to the northernmost appellations, and for an astonishing range of producers. Many normally-poor producers made the best wines of their lives. I think the success of 1985 showed producers and the public what could be done, and inspired both to seek out more of that special magic that red Burgundy can convey. In particular, a generation of then-young producers and a few of the oldtimers who had kept the flame burning during the lowpoint (qualitatively) of Burgundy in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s began to question and ultimately reject many of the practices that had led to the disgraceful state of Burgundy. The leadership of older producers such as Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, Henri Jayer, Michel Lafarge, Hubert de Montille, Jacques Seyesses of Domaine Dujac, and Gerard Potel of Domaine de la Pousse d'Or, and the new efforts of younger producers such as Christophe Roumier, Dominique Lafon and Etienne Grivot led the way to renewal. Today, in my opinion, no region in the world is as exciting and vital in the wines it produces as Burgundy.

The wines went through a closed period in the early 1990s, but have been drinking well for some time. I keep hearing stories of how the wines are now over the hill. My experience has been entirely different. I suppose it all depends on what producers one chooses: less conscientious producers made wines that probably did not have the stuff to last, but better producers’ wines are still going strong. Nevertheless, the wines are now fully mature and it is difficult to imagine that they will get any better, and so it is safest to drink up remaining bottles in the next few years.

Best regards,

Claude Kolm

The Fine Wine Reivew

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Claude,

I recently attended the Bougorgnes Terrior and Signatures tasting in Chicago. While the tasting was filled with uninspiring wines from larger shipping firms, the simple fact that this event and tour was even happening would seem to highlight the marketing problem that Burgundy is facing in the United States. In addition, the adoption in Beaune at the General Convention of Burgundy Wine Professionals in November 2002 of 5 major quality goals and the whole “Burgundy Ambition 2006” plan points out that even the producers in Burgundy understand that there is a growing image problem for the wines of Burgundy.

It seems strange that in what could be considered a ‘golden age’ of quality compared to the wines of 20 and 30 years ago that Burgundy seems to find itself in a difficult competitive situation. Is this only a function of price or the comparative rarity of the top estate wines of Burgundy?

One bright spot of the tasting were the wines of a young importer by the name of Scott Levy - a former protégé of one of my most respected names in Burgundy, shipper Becky Wasserman. His offerings included: Domaine Paul Garaudet, Domaine Roland Maroslavac-Leger, Domaine Hervé Sigaut and Domaine Taupenot-Merme. I thought his selections were first class across the board. Do you know Scott and his domaines?

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I drink Burgundy at least several times a week: to me it is the most exciting and versatile red wine in the world (with apologies to runners-up from the Northern Rhone and Piedmont)

You know it is less than a day’s drive from Alba to Beaune - and the northern Rhone is on the way. Nothing but good restaurants everywhere you look. There is a heaven.

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Claude,

I recently attended the Bougorgnes Terrior and Signatures tasting in Chicago. While the tasting was filled with uninspiring wines from larger shipping firms, the simple fact that this event and tour was even happening would seem to highlight the marketing problem that Burgundy is facing in the United States. In addition, the adoption in Beaune at the General Convention of Burgundy Wine Professionals in November 2002 of 5 major quality goals and the whole “Burgundy Ambition 2006” plan points out that even the producers in Burgundy understand that there is a growing image problem for the wines of Burgundy.

It seems strange that in what could be considered a ‘golden age’ of quality compared to the wines of 20 and 30 years ago that Burgundy seems to find itself in a difficult competitive situation. Is this only a function of price or the comparative rarity of the top estate wines of Burgundy?

One bright spot of the tasting were the wines of a young importer by the name of Scott Levy - a former protégé of one of my most respected names in Burgundy, shipper Becky Wasserman. His offerings included: Domaine Paul Garaudet, Domaine Roland Maroslavac-Leger, Domaine Hervé Sigaut and Domaine Taupenot-Merme. I thought his selections were first class across the board. Do you know Scott and his domaines?

Hi, Craig,

As always with Burgundy, one must only speak of the cream of the crop -- but there is a lot more cream than there used to be. Yes, if one is not careful, one can still find lots of poor Burgundy, but someone who is informed will have no trouble finding plenty of outstanding wine -- both because of the increased number of quality producers and because of the number of good to great vintages that we have experienced since 1985. Even at the Bourgogne level from quality producers such as Lafarge and Barthod, the wines can be outstanding -- and not expensive.

I haven't run into Mr. Levy (probably doesn't distribute in the Bay Area). Of the properties he has, I am familiar with Garaudet (although not the last few vintages) and have heard of Maraslavac-Leger and Sigaut, but have not had their wines. I visited Taupenot-Merme last fall for the first time in 12 years. I found the people there extremely nice, and the properties they own are great, but the wines didn't do it for me. They heat the wine to 40 degrees Celsius at the end of the fermentation and I suspect that is what causes the wines to be other than what I am looking for.

Best regards,

Claude Kolm

The Fine Wine Review

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Craig, could you provide more information or a link for the *Ambition Plan 2006* you're talking about? You seem to be touching on some careful things with regards to it. I'm sorry I missed the tasting in nyc; all the negociants turned me off.

Claude: yum. 1985s. ummm. there are quite a few of them in the aution markets these days, too. check the internet-only auctions out there, especially as the weather gets warmer: i'd think people would rather be out of the house than glued to the computer on the weekends.

I've decided that Lefarge is too expensive as per its QPR, in my opinion.

Bobby.

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I find many of the wines over the hill. Ponsot Clos de la Roche being a specific offender, but it seems like it's bottle to bottle there. But the Ponsot Griottes-Chambertin is almost perfect everytime I've had it. And the Dujac's I've had seem tired too. Both CdLR and Clos St. Denis. But the Rousseau Chambertin is not going to be drinking for at least another ten years, it is that powerful. But I've found his Clos de Beze to be terribly disappointing. So while the vintage can offer some stunning wines, it has lots of wines that appear past it too.

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I find many of the wines over the hill. Ponsot Clos de la Roche being a specific offender, but it seems like it's bottle to bottle there. But the Ponsot Griottes-Chambertin is almost perfect everytime I've had it. And the Dujac's I've had seem tired too. Both CdLR and Clos St. Denis. But the Rousseau Chambertin is not going to be drinking for at least another ten years, it is that powerful. But I've found his Clos de Beze to be terribly disappointing. So while the vintage can offer some stunning wines, it has lots of wines that appear past it too.

Hi, Steve,

First, correct me if I am wrong, but all your 1985s have been bought on the secondary market, so you cannot verify their provenance, is that not correct?

That being said, some of the wines are getting old enough that there is considerable bottle variation. For example, a 1985 Dujac Clos la Roche served to me at the estate last November was beginning to slide downhill -- much to my surprise because a bottle (my last) from my own cellar that I had opened within the prceding year was much fresher and at its peak. This difference even though Burgundies almost always taste better in Europe than in the US. A Drouhin Chambolle-Amoureuses that I opened last summer was astonishing and at its peak, although a Drouhin Griotte-Chambertin, while still good had probably passed its peak. I'm down to about 1-1/2 cases of 1985 and will drink them over the next couple of years because, as I stated in my original post, they won't be getting any better.

Best regards,

Claude Kolm

The Fine Wine Review

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Starting about a year ago for a period of a few months, a friend brought over the better part of 25-30 different '85s. He had drunk one of them previous to that and noted that the wine had seen better days. Unfortunately, I don't have the list of what we drank anymore. I do remember drinking the following:

Chambertin, Rousseau

Echezeaux, Henri Jayer

Musigny VV, de Vogue (grey market, not Dreyfus Ashby import)

Corton and Corton-Bressandes, Tollot-Beaut

Bonnes-Mares, Roumier

Ruchottes-Chambertin, Georges Mugneret

Musigny, Moine-Hudelot

Musigny, J-F Mugnier

NSG Richemone, Leroy

Other than the Jayer Echezeaux and de Vogue Musigny, many of the wines were on the downslide. Based upon these tastings, my friend sold all the rest of his 85s. This included Leroy Chambertin, Ruchottes-Chambertin and his lone bottle of Mazis-Chambertin "Cuvee Madeleine Colligan". Also, Jayer VR "Cros Parantoux" and Richebourg. He said the wines were simply worth too much to take the chance that he might get them on the downward slope.

All of these had been stored in a temp-controlled cellar since purchase. All had been purchased when '85 was the current vintage.

The best wine we had was the de Vogue Musigny. Simply spectacular. The Jayer was a close second, but with his other bottles bringing $1K a piece, he didn't much hesistate in selling them.

Edited by Larry Stein (log)
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Chambertin, Rousseau

Echezeaux, Henri Jayer

Musigny VV, de Vogue (grey market, not Dreyfus Ashby import)

Corton and Corton-Bressandes, Tollot-Beaut

Bonnes-Mares, Roumier

Ruchottes-Chambertin, Georges Mugneret

Musigny, Moine-Hudelot

Musigny, J-F Mugnier

NSG Richemone, Leroy

Interesting observations, Larry.

Your experience with Rousseau's Chambertin, of course, is the opposite of what Steve reports above.

Jayer is a top producer, and de Vogue, if not a top producer at that time (the last year of the regime prior to the current one) at least is a very great terroir.

Tollot-Beaut was a god, but not a top, producer at the time IMO (and may not be now, but that's for another discussion).

Your experience with Roumier is different from what I've seen reported elsewhere - I may have to open a bottle soon to find out.

Don't know what to say about the Mugneret -- my only bottle was corked when I opened it 4 years ago, but for what one could tell, it was still vital.

Moine-Hudelot was not a top producer.

Mugnier had only recently come back and I don't think his 1985 Musigny ever was that great.

The Leroy Nuits-Richemone had to come from either Michelot or Pernin-Rossin, the only two owners of the vineyard. And Leroy did not make the wine, but rather bought it in barrel. I consider neither Michelot or P-R top notch (although Pernin certainly had his supporters).

So the bottom line is: I'm not sure that your experience is contrary to what I reported in my original post.

Best regards,

Claude Kolm

The Fine Wine Review

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I never was able to buy any '85s as my finances didn't allow me to at that juncture. My friend didn't pay as much attention to producer and reputation as to what was on the market and available to taste. I do know that he tasted over 300 wines from that vintage and bought about 10% of them, looking for what he hoped would be the vin de garde. I did do some tasting at the time.

Neither of us had heard of Moine-Hudelot and JF Mugnier up to that point. I'll agree with you about Tollot-Beaut except in '85 and '78. We drank '85 Corton-Bressandes for faux-Millenium NYE dinner at Acquerello along with Leroy Clos-Vougeot, DRC Echezeaux, Rouget Echezeaux, and Meo-Camuzet VR "Cros Parantoux". It wasn't at all out of place in the company of those wines.

What's most interesting about '85 de Vogue Musigny is there were 3 different import sources in the Bay Area. Of course, there was the official import from Dreyfus Ashby. There also were 2 grey market imports. My friend couldn't remember the importer of the one he didn't buy and the one he did purchase didn't have an importer sticker on it when we drank it. He couldn't remember where he bought that one or the importer. I never tasted the non-purchased one, but there was *definitely* a huge difference between the other 2. The Dreyfus Ashby bottling was simple and light to medium bodied. The other one was anything but that with great structure, body and fruit core. Don't know if there was a barrel-by-barrel selection for the different importers, but it would've been hard to believe otherwise when those 2 wines were tasted side-by-side.

We were surprised by the recent showing of the Roumier Bonnes-Mares and Rousseau Chambertin. I had tasted the Rousseau on 2 other occasions previously and it blew me away both times.

Thanks for the info on the Leroy Nuits-Richemone. I'll let him know that.

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Claude - Yes that's correct. But there is no reason to believe that the Dujacs were stored poorly and the others weren't. Another '85 I had a few years back, and which was nowhere ready was the Roty Charmes-Chambertin. And another wine I've had a number of times, and each time it has been disappointingly closed is the Jadot Bonnes Mares. I also bought a case of '85 Roumier Bonnes Mares and Clos Vougeot. The CV is "a point" and needs to be drunk up. The Bonnes Mares has life left to it but is not going to improve IMO.

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Larry's comments inspired me to open a bottle of 1985 Pommard-Epenots from Pothier-Rieusset. Although my view of blind tastings is that they are useful only as an occasional reality check, FWIW, I can report that over the years, this wine and Pothier's 1985 Pommard-Rugiens consistently came out at or near the top in tastings matching them against some of the top grands crus of the vintage. Last night's wine was no disappointment, either - pure Pommard with the overall rusticity of the village and also the refinement of the Epenots vineyard, and great depth complexity to the earthy, smoky dark fruit. The wine was right where I have found my other 1985s -- not likely to get any better, but still on its plateau.

For those who are unfamiliar with the estate, Virgile Pothier, who was in his late 60s when he made this wine, looked like the stereotypical French vigneron -- short and round, always with a beret on his head and a cigarette dangling from his lip. He made fantastic wines for the same reason that he could not sell them -- he simply was not a commercial type and did not change to meet current fashions.

Best regards,

Claude Kolm

The Fine Wine Review

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