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Red Burgundy Review: The 1990 Vintage


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Read vintage charts and ask anyone who is not a total Burgundy freak, and 1990 is the great vintage of our generation. Talk to the people who drink Burgundy 4, 5, 7 times a week and may make sacrifices to do so and you are likely to hear a different story. No one disagrees that this is a high quality vintage – but there is much debate about just how high that quality is. What gives?

This was a large vintage with ripe wines. Drought in the middle of the summer led to a natural dropping of the leaves (which most quality producers now do themselves if nature does not) to give more sun and ripening of the vines. Rain in the first few weeks of September provided just the nourishment the vines needed, and harvests began on September 20 on the Côte de Beaune and a week later on the Côte de Nuits. Because of the high yields, there was quite a bit of bleeding (saigner) of the vats in 1990. (Today the top producers would know better and would keep yields lower so that it would be much less likely that bleed the vats than they were then.) The resulting wines were high in alcohol but also had good acidity. Their richness made them extremely impressive when young.

So what do the purists object to? The fact is, with some notable exceptions, that as impressive as the wines are, they lack a little nervosity and do not show the characteristics of their respective terroirs.

One can now drink the wines of the Côte de Beaune with pleasure and the lesser wines of the Côte de Nuits. For the top wines of the Côte de Nuits, more time (5 years?) is required. Notable successes include Pousse d’Or, Lafarge, d’Angerville, de Montille, Lafon, Pothier-Rieusset, and Comte Armand on the Côte de Beaune. On the Côte de Nuits, the situation is more mixed. DRC’s, Jayers, and Rouimiers are great, but will the de Vogüés and Leroys ever shine? (The Leroys, at least, are made in a very different style today.)

Given the premium that 1990s now command in the marketplace, one would be better advised to look for other vintages that can provide better value, and sometimes better quality.

Best regards,

Claude Kolm

The Fine Wine Review

Edited by Claude Kolm/The Fine Wine Review (log)
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Claude - Though many of my friends have sold off their 90's, I have had good experiences with the ones I've gotten to taste. The good wines, like Ponsot CdLR are just gigantic. Geoff Troy calls it a "50 year wine." I also had the Leroy Vosne-Romanee Beaumonts a while back and it was just phenomenol. As gigantic as they come. I realize there are collectors out there who do not like that characteristic. But I am afraid I am not that jaded :biggrin:

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Steve -- I admit that the top 1990s need more time, and some of them are fantastic. The question is -- which ones? I personally am not enamored at the moment by the Leroys (nor do I feel that her Beaumonts is great;in fact, I think that only Jayer/Rouget produce great wine from this vineyard -- to my tastes it is greatly overrated in general). I'd love to do a side-by-side tasting of Ponsot's 1988s and 1990s.

Best regards,

Claude Kolm

The Fine Wine Review

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Really, you like the '88 Ponsot's? I only ask because whenever I've had one it was so closed it was painful to drink. And I will stake my reputation on that Beaumonts. Or does she spell it Beauxmonts? Even though I haven't had it for a number of years. Gigantic wine. People will be drinking it in the 2020's and onward. Oddly enough, I met someone at that 1975 Bordeaux tasting last week who out of the blue told me it was her favorite wine. It seems one of the restaurants in town (one where you and I had lunch :cool: ) has it on their wine list. And she and her husband have been drinking their way through the 6 bottles the restaurant had. She was telling me how phenomenol the wine is. I own some, but I am loathe to crack open a bottle at this point. I'm also loathe to spend $500 to try it if you know what I mean.

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1988 Ponsots are drinking wonderfully now -- not just here, but at the estate, too. I see no connection between them and 1990 Leroy Beaumonts. The Ponsots demonstrate terroir, I didn't find it in the 1990 Leroys, although the Leroys from the last several vintages are quite different in style. Remington Norman took the words out of my mouth about the 1990s in piece on Leroy in his book on the great wine domaines of Burgundy.

Best regards,

Claude Kolm

The Fine Wine Review

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Claude,

Just a few weeks ago I opened a '90 Volnay, 1er Cru from Hubert de Montille. This wine was nothing short of spectacular. Still dark in color and rich in fruit - still a baby, but oh such a pleasure to drink. Most of all it was like a concentrated essence of pinot noir. An experience getting harder and harder to find these days.

Is Burgundy going to go the way of Barolo?

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Claude,

Just a few weeks ago I opened a '90 Volnay, 1er Cru from Hubert de Montille. This wine was nothing short of spectacular. Still dark in color and rich in fruit - still a baby, but oh such a pleasure to drink. Most of all it was like a concentrated essence of pinot noir. An experience getting harder and harder to find these days.

Is Burgundy going to go the way of Barolo?

Craig -- For red wine, I think Burgundy is the model wine region for all the world with a very strong core of producers and estates committed to making ever more pure wine with no compromises. Each year there are estates that formerly had been doing poorly that are coming back to quality. Drouhin-Laroze, Clos de Tart, and de Courcel are three examples of estates with great vineyard holdings that have made dramatic jumps in quality in the last 4-5 years.

The movement to supress chemical fertilizers and herbicides is one example of the care that Burgundians are taking, and some top producers are now working the fields with horses so that the soil does not get compacted from the weight of tractors. Some producers are now doing two green harvests, and in more difficult years, two triages, one in the field and another at the cellar. In the cellars, while there was a brief mode for over-oaked wines in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but most producers have gotten over that (a couple of US importers go after the remaining producers who overoak). There was some experimentation with reverse osmosis in 1999-2000, but most quality producers who did experiment wound up rejecting the process.

It's true that once you get beyond 100 or so top producers, the quality falls off rapidly, but again, that number keeps expanding -- a few years ago, I put that number at 60 or so.

The de Montilles are great, especially in the period 1988-91, and the wines still are outstanding (2000 and 2001 were difficult at Volnay-Pommard, but even so, de Montille's 2001 Pommards look to be outstanding, and the 1998s and 1999s there were superb).

Best regards,

Claude Kolm

The Fine Wine Review

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Craig -- Surprisingly few top (IMO) producers use lots of new oak today. Sure, for the greatest vineyards, you often will see all new oak in the best cellars, but even there, not always. Roumier, de Vougue, and Mugnier all use half new oak or less for their Musigny and Bonnes-Mares, for example. At Chandon-de-Briailles, no new oak in the last few vintages, even for the Cortons. And Ponsot has never used new oak. Etc., etc.

Yeah, Dominique Laurent made a big spalsh with Parker/Rovani, Tanzer, and Wine Spectator, but most people I know who are Burgundy fanatics do not like the wines except for an occasional one here and there, and in fact I'm told that Laurent's wines have taken a serious slump in the auction houses. Claude Dugat would be another oak hound whose wines command very high prices, but again, many people with deep Burgundy knowledge do not find his wines to be anywhere near the summit of Burgundy. The high prices are due to high Parker/Rovani scores (meaning that they bring in buyers who are not expert in Burgundy), rarity of the wines, and high markups by the importer.

Guy Accad came along at a time when Burgundy was in crisis -- there wasn't much good wine around, and the younger generation knew it and was looking for a way to make something better. Accad was not the answer, but in fact he did a lot of good. Along with Claude Bourguignon, he focused attention on the vineyards and the problems that decades of herbicides and artificial fertilizers were causing, and he made a convincing case for denser plantation of the vines. In the cellars is where he got into serious trouble.

But today the top producers know that they are making the kind of wine that they want to make, and they are selling it for a good price (they are not looking for Bordeaux-type speculative prices), so there is no pressure on the best producers to seek other magical ways to the top. With this core of leadership, I think that Burgundy will continue to make great wines and be the model wine region for people seeking purity and honesty in their wines.

The whites have long been another story, primarily because of overcropping. But in the last several years, there has been some resistance to the prices for the whites, and as a result, more people seem to be cutting back in yields -- with correspondingly better wines.

Best regards,

Claude Kolm

The Fine Wine Review

Edited by Claude Kolm/The Fine Wine Review (log)
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Well, I'm glad that someone has some wine they like from 1990. I've been running from that vintage like Bambi from the forest fire for years. It's hard to think of a vintage that has given me less pleasure in the last 6 or 7 years. OTOH, I now so avoid it that I have very limited recent experience.

The de Vogüé Moose was as nasty a Burg as I ever tasted a couple of years ago. It's amazing what some points will do for levitation.

Or maybe I just don't get it about the long-term future of these wines, which is entirely possible.

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Does anyone know how well Drouhin did in 1990? Given the house's customary style, I'd expect (or, more accurately, hope) that the wines would show less of the overripeness and tooty-fruitiness that one finds in some of the other producers' 1990s.

I'd be particularly interested in hearing about the Bonnes Mares, Charmes Chambertin and Echezeaux, which I found recently at auction for prices comparable to the current releases.

Thanks.

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Well, I'm glad that someone has some wine they like from 1990. I've been running from that vintage like Bambi from the forest fire for years. It's hard to think of a vintage that has given me less pleasure in the last 6 or 7 years. OTOH, I now so avoid it that I have very limited recent experience.

Far be it from me to get in Bambi's way while she is running from a fire, but Joe, one of these days we ought to go down to Veritas and split one of the 1990 D'angerville Volnay 1er Crus off their list. I've only had the pleasure of a drop of the Taillepieds at a pre-auction tasting, but it did not show any of the things people complain about with the vintage and was in fact pretty darned incredible. It may have been a bit more mature than one would expect for a 12-year old wine from a great site, but it had terrific secondary aromatics and flavors (mushrooms, dried flowers, earth, tea leaves, the barn, etc.).

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Well, I'm glad that someone has some wine they like from 1990. I've been running from that vintage like Bambi from the forest fire for years. It's hard to think of a vintage that has given me less pleasure in the last 6 or 7 years. OTOH, I now so avoid it that I have very limited recent experience.

Far be it from me to get in Bambi's way while she is running from a fire, but Joe, one of these days we ought to go down to Veritas and split one of the 1990 D'angerville Volnay 1er Crus off their list. I've only had the pleasure of a drop of the Taillepieds at a pre-auction tasting, but it did not show any of the things people complain about with the vintage and was in fact pretty darned incredible. It may have been a bit more mature than one would expect for a 12-year old wine from a great site, but it had terrific secondary aromatics and flavors (mushrooms, dried flowers, earth, tea leaves, the barn, etc.).

Sounds good to me.

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  • 3 months later...

I wonder whether anyone has tried the de Montille Taillepieds 1990? I have a half-dozen bottles, and opened one about a year ago. It was shut down, with none of the elegance that relatively young Volnay often has. The texture is rather like unfiltered prune juice -- the sort of mouthfeel I associate with many Santa Maria Pinots.

Will this wine ever come around? I understand that de Montille Volnays are built for the long haul, but I'm just not sure that all the elements are there. Perhaps I simply lack the requisite patience...

On a somewhat related note, do you think the hot, dry weather in Burgundy this year will produce wines in Volnay that are similar to those from the 1990 vintage?

Cheers,

T.

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I have my doubts about the 1990 de Vogue Musigny that SF Joe mentions (I never shared the unbridled enthusiasm for it that some had at the beginning), but I feel confident that the de Montilles will reward the wait.

Edited by Claude Kolm/The Fine Wine Review (log)
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On a somewhat related note, do you think the hot, dry weather in Burgundy this year will produce wines in Volnay that are similar to those from the 1990 vintage?

Cheers,

T.

It ain't over 'til its over, but however 2003 turns out in Burgundy, I seriously doubt that it will be like 1990. Among other things, 1990 was a large vintage, 2003 is looking like it will be a smallish one. 1990 was low-moderate acidity, 2003 is looking like it will be very low (probably requiring acid adjustment).

To tell the truth, I'm not at all optimistic about 2003 in Burgundy based on what we know at this point, but even if it does turn out for the best, it would more likely be like 1997 (a vintage favored by some, but not by me) than 1990. It also appears that there will be great variability depending upon soil type, vineyard location, and age of vines -- three factors that determine whether the vines have had access to water during this drought period. But rain and somehwat cooler weather are predicted for this weekend, so we'll see how things progress.

Edited by Claude Kolm/The Fine Wine Review (log)
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