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Red Burgundy Vingtage Review: 1988


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1988 is a year that has had some controversy from the beginning. One or two influential critics panned the wines as overly tannic. But that was not the case – these critics confused acidity with tannin. Acidity is a key to red Burgundy – and the reason why those critical of the vintage have not appreciated it or most great red Burgundy.

In 1988, we are still early in the reconstruction of Burgundy that began only a few years before, so the better producers’ improvements in the vineyards, such as eliminating herbicides and chemical fertilizers, and improved techniques in the cellars, largely had yet to be implemented. Where such changes were being taking place in the vineyards, there had not been a long enough gestation to reap the full effects. As a result, while this is an extremely good vintage from top producers, it would be even better, perhaps spectacular, if repeated. In particular, there is a slight rusticity to these wines that would not be found today from the top producers.

Vintage size was moderate. The issues at harvest were rain the week of 18 September. Producers who harvested shortly thereafter risked wines from grapes that were not sufficiently mature and also some dilution. Those who harvested later generally had more successful wines.

In barrel the wines were marked by dark blue and purple colors, a sign of their high acidity, and liveliness and purity of fruit due to the underlying acidity. But there also was great experimentation in the cellar at the time, not all for the better. This was the beginning of the brief heyday for Guy Accad, the controversial consultant. But Accad’s influence was limited to 15-20 producers. More significant was the appreciation that certain American journalists and importers favored very oaky wines. For this and the next few vintages, one often came across wines that had been exposed to too much new oak. As a result, while there are some very great wines from this vintage, the number of producers who were able to achieve that level is relatively small.

The acidity has made the wines slow to come around. The wines on the Côte de Beaune generally have been ready to drink for several years now, and at their best they are superb – Lafarge (Volnay-Clos des Chênes, always his slowest-developing, still needs more time), de Montille, Pousse d’Or, Pothier-Rieusset, and Comte Armand all made Volnays and Pommards that are ravishing today, as did Jacques Germain with his Beaunes. The present state of the Côte de Nuits wines is more mixed. Dujac wines have been delicious for some time (but Dujac wines rarely suffer prolonged shutdowns that may afflict other wines), and a DRC Grands-Echézeaux a few years ago was magnificent. This is an extremely successful vintage for Ponsot, that most idiosyncratic and inconsistent producer, and the wines are superb now. Drouhin's wines, made by the talented Laurence Jobard, were long stern and unyielding, but recently have begun to blossom spectacularly. However, for many other top producers, such as Roumier, Rousseau, and Maume, the wines will continue to benefit from additional aging.

Best regards,

Claude Kolm

The Fine Wine Review

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these critics confused acidity with tannin

Thanks for the report, Claude. Much appreciated.

Regarding the confusion of acidity and tannin, I confess to having made similar errors in judgment. But I'm no wine expert. This seems like more of a beginner's mistake than something a serious critic would mess up. Which critics are we talking about here, and have they recanted yet?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
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Claude - Someone brought a 1988 Meo-Camuzet Nuit-St.-George Boudots out to dinner a few weeks ago. The wine was mostly closed, but you could really tell it was deep and rich with lots of viscosity, a characteristic I don't find much in '88's as they typically seem thin and acidic. But it was good enough to make me consider buying 3-4 bottles to lay away, which I guess is a big compliment. The other '88 I've had with great success is the Roumier Bonnes Mares. I've bought it at auction in two different parcels, both out of London. One lot came from a cellar that was so dry that the labels on the bottles were quite deteriorated and shriveled up. Great fills though. The other lot had perfect labels and fill. Well a bottle from the lots with the dried up labels was astonishingly good, and a few bottles from the second lot showed a wine that was hard as nails. Completely undrinkable.

That last description has been my typical experience with '88s, including a pouring of '88 La Tache a few years back. It was very good, different then the other La Tache's on the table because of the high acidity, but you could see it's going to be a very, very good, maybe excellent wine. I have some other wines in my cellar that I bought, including some Drouhin Musigny. But I'm afraid to crack them open. In fact I think I have a mag of the Drouhin, which will probably wont be ready to drink for 20 years.

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Dujac wines have been delicious for some time (but Dujac wines rarely suffer prolonged shutdowns that may afflict other wines)...

A recent bottle of Dujac's 88 Echezeaux was indeed delicious. Also, I was interested to see your remark about Dujac wines usually failing to suffer the "closed-up" pahses that are common for Burgundy. On Sunday night I opened up a 95 Clos St. Denis and, while the palate was predictably showing a lot more structure than fruit (given the reputation that the vintage has for being in its closed phase now), I found the nose to be remarkably opulent with sweet and rich fruit aromatics.

Is there something in the producer's vinification techniques that you think could account for this characteristic?

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The major difference is between acid and tannin is that acid can be tasted (sour) and felt while tannins are only felt. Try tasting a cup of strong tea without sugar and you can feel the drying sensations of tannin on the roof of your mouth. Acids cause salivation while tannin has a drying effect.

That being said, when tasting very young red wines from barrel your palate is intensely assaulted by both tannins and acids. Often both are higher than they will be in the finished wine. At this level there is a much greater potential for confusion than when the wines are in bottle.

It seems to me that many American wine critics are willing to accept wines that are high in tannin but reject wines that are high in acidity. The 1988 vintage in Burgundy certainly suffered from this in the American press.

No FG they have not recanted nor are the likely to. There is no reason for them to change their position because their readers only care about the current vintage in release. They have nothing to gain by reassessing older vintages.

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Is there something in the producer's vinification techniques that you think could account for this characteristic?

Marty -- One would certainly guess that there is something about Jacques Seysses's vinifications at Domaine Dujac that make the wines less prone to prolonged shutdowns than other wines. However, over the years, there is very little that has remained constant there, and in the 35 years or so that the domaine has been in existence, one can identify as many as five or six styles that the wines have gone through.

What is constant, I think, is that Jacques Seysses (and now his son Jeremy) prefers wines that are subtle and elegant and he understands the difference between concentration and extraction. As a result, I would say that he seeks a balance in his wine that permits his wines to drink early -- they are more approachable when young that the wines at many other estates. One therefore would think that Dujac wines can't age because they are so delicious when young, but time after time, experience has shown that Dujac wines age magnificently.

Best regards,

Claude Kolm

The Fine Wine Review

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  • 2 weeks later...
The major difference is between acid and tannin is that acid can be tasted (sour) and felt while tannins are only felt.

Craig, Tannins are also bitter as well as astringent. Thus we can "taste" tannin, though bitterness perception is quite variable among tasters. I have been participating in a academic wine discussion group with other scientists where we have been doing a number of experiments with acid perception. One of the surprising discoveries for me was that acid solutions at concentrations found in some wines can be astringent, similar to tannin perception. My perception of the 88 burgundies I have in my cellar, (Chevillon, Maum, Boillot, Rossignol) has been that most are very astringent and unevolved still. I had assumed that the astringency was due to high tannin levels, but now, in light of Claude's and others comments here, I will revisit the wines and see if its high acidity. My personal palate preferences are for higher acidity in wines, though if the wine becomes "astringent" due to the acidity, I would continue aging it hoping it would "mellow" in the cellar. BTW, thanks for the link to this board. How long has it been around?

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The major difference is between acid and tannin is that acid can be tasted (sour) and felt while tannins are only felt.

Craig, Tannins are also bitter as well as astringent. Thus we can "taste" tannin, though bitterness perception is quite variable among tasters. I have been participating in a academic wine discussion group with other scientists where we have been doing a number of experiments with acid perception. One of the surprising discoveries for me was that acid solutions at concentrations found in some wines can be astringent, similar to tannin perception. My perception of the 88 burgundies I have in my cellar, (Chevillon, Maum, Boillot, Rossignol) has been that most are very astringent and unevolved still. I had assumed that the astringency was due to high tannin levels, but now, in light of Claude's and others comments here, I will revisit the wines and see if its high acidity. My personal palate preferences are for higher acidity in wines, though if the wine becomes "astringent" due to the acidity, I would continue aging it hoping it would "mellow" in the cellar. BTW, thanks for the link to this board. How long has it been around?

Everett - welcome to eGullet and a most interesting comment.

I too am acid oriented in my taste, but by over-oaked I am not referring so much to the wood tannins themselves as the other flavors and aromas that can cover the fruit itself.

I find your comments fascinating and a potential thread in itself. Often acid and tannin seems to be confused by many tasters. I think it is particularly confusing when tasting young wines from the barrel. From my perspective I always think of tannins as more of 'feeling' (roof of the mouth) and acids more of a 'taste' centered on the tongue. Also I would describe tannin as astringent and drying while acid as biting and it produces salivation. How does your research address these questions?

Edited by Craig Camp (log)
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Also I would describe tannin as astringent and drying while acid as biting and it produces salivation. How does your research address these questions?

I am not sure of your distinction between astringent and drying, as they are the same to me. Mechanistically, tannins bind the proline rich protein in your saliva and denature it which results in its precipitation in your mouth and binding to the epithelial membranes which produces the "rough" and drying feeling in your mouth. If you're not too grossed out, examination of the expectorate in your spit bucket will illustrate the precipiated protein. Acid solutions can also precipitate saliva proteins and I believe that is responsible for the "perceived astringency" of very acidic wines. Of course there are also acid detectors on your tongue which most of us interpret as sourness. The mouthwatering effect you mention to me also enhances fruitiness in wines and some describe it as "high toned" or spicy flavors in wine. At higher acid levels is when that "biting" sensation begins for me. Some in our group describe it as clipping (or shutting down) the flavors in the finish. Interestingly some wines that I love, often have a very short finish to this individual due to this clipping acidity as he describes it. If you want to begin exploring these phenomena, take a wine that is not too high in TA, and add tartaric acid to increase the TA by .05 gm/100 ml. It is very interesting to see how it affects ones perception of flavor, aromas, and color in the wine.

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I believe U of C Davis has created an ''acid tasting kit' - are you familiar with this?

No I am not, but I'll go across the street and see what I can find. I am a Food Science Professor here at Davis, BTW and the academic tasting group I mentioned consists mostly of UCD people.

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