Founded in 1731, Bouchard Père & Fils is one of the oldest names in Burgundy – and the region’s biggest owner of Grand and Premier Cru vineyards. The Sommelier Collective was delighted to host a tasting of some of their best domaine (own-vineyard) wines, with Cellar Master Frédéric Weber giving us a tour through top sites in the Cotes de Beaune – and lots of great information about Burgundy too!
We only have Pinot Noir and Chardonnay,’ said Frédéric, ‘so all the differences come from the terroir.’ But terroir, he points out, is not just about the region’s famous soils – or even geography; it’s the accumulation of experience.
‘Soil is important,’ he says, ‘so is altitude, exposure, the microclimates.
‘But the most important is the generations of humans who have cultivated the soil and transmitted their passion and knowledge to the next generation, improving the quality generation after generation.’
For Bouchard Père & Fils, part of that ‘improving the quality generation after generation’ ethos is seen in their commitment to organic viticulture. Currently 70 of their 130 hectares are converted to organic practices, and they plan to have them all certified by 2024.
Clos de la Mousse 2015, Beaune 1er Cru, Monopole
The Bouchard family bought their first vines in this tiny appellation in 1826, and over the next 46 years, purchased all the remaining plots to become sole owners of the appellation – making this wine a ‘monopole’.
With quite clay-heavy soils, it’s a vineyard that doesn’t suffer from drought, and, as a result, does better than others in warmer, drier years such as 2015.
Fred called this a ‘magical’ vintage, with everything ripening beautifully and excellent vine health – but following hail damage the previous year, it was a small vintage. As a result, with low yields, the wine is naturally quite concentrated.
‘Personally I love this vintage,’ said Fred. ‘The tannins are very round and the terroir expression is fantastic. ‘It’s a classical Beaune, with strawberry confiture flavours, and on the palate it’s round and delicate.’
Fred used round 20% whole cluster, something which, he says, brings floral notes such as ‘roses and peonies’ to the wine.
Volnay Les Caillerets ‘Ancienne Cuvée Carnot’ 2015, Premier Cru
This is the first vineyard that the family bought back in 1775, so it’s a very important vineyard for Bouchard. The name comes from an old French word meaning that the soil is rich in limestone. After 50-70cm of soil, the wine is into a calcareous bedrock.
Limestone, he says, brings ‘delicacy’ to Pinot Noir. ‘We have an expression in Burgundy that ‘if you haven’t had a Caillerets, you don’t know what is a Volnay’,’ he says. ‘It’s one of the best places of the appellation.’
With a sunny, eastern exposure this is one of the first vineyards to be picked.
‘I love energy in the wine,’ said Fred. ‘I don’t want it to be flabby. It’s very bright. I love the complexity of Les Caillerets.’
Some tasters, sadly, found their sample slightly oxidised. But for others (including this journalist) this was the star wine of the tasting.
Beaune-Greves, Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus 2016, 1er cru
From the middle of the slope, in the best part of Beaune Greves, this is reckoned to be ‘the filet mignon of the Greves appellation’. The name comes from the 17th century, when Louis XIII and his wife were struggling to conceive. But a nun in Beaune predicted that the couple would have a baby, and a few months later Louis XIV was born. A wooden statue of a suitably cherubic baby adorns the vineyard, which the family bought in 1791.
Spring frost saw some growers lose 60% of their crop in 2016, making for a very concentrated vintage, with plenty of fruit but also acidity.
‘It was challenging in the vineyard, but a surprise during vinification,’ said Fred, who described it as ‘very classical – beautiful structure and fruit – the purity of each terroir is huge. 2015 was a very sunny year, so all the wines are very ripe, but 2016 is more precise.’
The Enfant Jesus wines, he says, are marked out by their enormous ageing potential and flavours of forest floor, licorice and, particularly, mint which carries on all the way through the ageing. 2009, 2010 and 2015 he says are all showing really well.
Le Corton 2016, Grand Cru
Our first Grand Cru of the tasting, this wine comes from the top of the hill of Corton, 300m above sea level, with an eastern exposure. Cooler and fresher, thanks to its being in the northerly wind, this is a wine that matures two weeks later than Baby Jesus and Les Caillerets, and is usually the last to be harvested.
There are 80cm of red clay, rich in iron which, Fred says, ‘brings a lot of power to the wine. It’s a true Corton.’ But still there is that bedrock of limestone, which is significant.
‘It’s difficult for the vines to grow here,’ says Fred, ‘the yield is naturally low. A lot of people say that Corton is a powerful wine that needs long ageing, but not in this part. You have a higher proportion of limestone here and the wine is more delicate.’
Our tasters enjoyed this wine, and Fred’s suggestion that it could work with Japanese fish brought a slew of Asian food-inspired suggestions, from Peking duck and smoked yakitori eel to tuna tataki.
Beaune du Chateau Blanc 2017, 1er cru
Moving (as is the way in Burgundy) onto the whites after the reds saw us start with this multi-vineyard blend of premier cru vineyards.
Described by Frederic as a vintage with lots of sun but not too much heat, 2017 had hearteningly normal yields, and ‘good expression and concentration’. The whites, he said had the [fruit] maturity of the 2015, but with a little more acidity – like 2014.
First made in 1907, the Beaune du Chateau is put together from five different premier crus, vinified separately and then blended so it tends to have good consistency and reliability and less vintage variation.
‘The style of Beaune is between Meursault and Puligny,’ said Frederic. ‘You have white flowers on the nose – acacia, hawthorn – then on the finish there’s more acidity and a citrus and roses note, like in Puligny. Beaune is always more generous.’
All the wine sees oak, but just 12% of it is new.
Meursault Les Genevrieres 2016, 1er cru.
This Meursault comes from two very different plots. One (with brown soil) gives flavours of white flowers, almonds and honey, described by Frederic as ‘a true Genevrieres.’ The second (higher) plot has more limestone in the soil, and there is more acidity and citrus zest as a result.
‘When I blend them together it’s not a classical Genevrieres,’ says Frederic. ‘It’s more delicate, with a citrus note’. The rich, toasty notes, he said, come from the terroir, not from the oak. ‘It’s a characteristic of Les Genevrieres to have grilled almond flavours,’ he said.
Harry Cooper found ‘creamy, nutty, peaches’ while for Marisol Suarez it was all about ‘stone fruits’.
In Burgundy, Frederic said that these wines are opened as an aperitif, then left on the table for consumption with cheese, at a slightly warmer temperature. ‘With Brillat Savarin it’s really beautiful,’ he said.
Our tasters saw uses for it with fish in creamy sauce, while Vitaly from Zuma said it would work with blackened cod.
Corton-Charlemagne 2016, Grand Cru
The first of two Grand Cru whites to finish, this comes from a 4ha plot just above the red wine vineyards. Yet the soils for the two wines are totally different: red clay rich in iron for the red wines, yellow marl with limestone bedrock for the Chardonnay.
‘It’s a very powerful wine with a lot of salinity and minerality,’ said Frederic – something our tasters certainly agreed with.
Fred suggested cellaring this for at least five or six years. ‘Corton is like Montrachet or Clos Vougeot,’ he said. ‘It needs time to give a perfect expression.’ As if to prove this, Fred’s favourite vintage is the 1955!
‘Whenever I make a wine, I want to do what my predecessors did and make a wine with a long future,’ he said.
Certainly, if you like minerality this is a wine for you. There were lots of approving comments from the tasters about the wine’s salinity.
Chevalier-Montrachet 2015, Grand Cru
From a warm vintage with ‘perfect conditions’ and northerly winds providing freshness, Fred described this as an ‘easy to understand vintage and pleasurable.’
Though, interestingly, he also said that ‘with all grand cru wines you’ll see the terroir is more important than the vintage.’
With 2.5 hectares, Bouchard are the biggest land owners in Chevalier-Montrachet but for Frederic the most important factor is that they own vines on ‘all four terraces’.
The lowest, flattest terrace gives big, generous wines with some Riesling-like notes; the second terrace in the middle of the slope is more limestone rich (’it’s my favourite place – a true Chevalier with more delicacy – like the zest when you peel a tangerine’), while the third and fourth terraces are higher with poorer soils and more ‘focus, minerality, acidity on the finish and some saltiness’.
The wines are vinified separately then blended together after barrel ageing. Fred’s tips for his favourite Chevalier-Montrachet vintages of the last ten years are 2012 and 2016.
Questions from the Sommelier Collective Members
What is the difference between Chevalier-Montrachet and Le Montrachet?
Le Montrachet is more at the bottom of the slope, more clay and white marl, whereas Chevalier is marl and then limestone. Le Montrachet whites are more closed at first. They become more powerful than Chevalier whites, but need to age a long time before you can appreciate them. Chevalier is more open and delicate with citrus zest and white flowers – it’s easier to get pleasure from a young version.
How are you being affected by global warming?
I’ve got the dates of all harvests since 1731. In the 18th and 19th century they sometimes harvested at the end of September, but more commonly in October. Today we harvest at the beginning of September or, more and more, at the end of August. So we are one month earlier.
We are also seeing more difficult weather events like frost and hail. In 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016 we lost the equivalent of two years’ worth of crop.
Is the region over its premox problems?
In the past a lot of producers were touched by that, but we’ve worked a lot against this phenomenon. We’ve changed things in the vineyard, but also in vinification. In the past I think we wanted to protect the must too much, but it’s important to prepare the wine for the future.
A small oxidation is normal and necessary at the beginning [of the winemaking process]. After that we do a long élevage, with a lot of lees, because lees protects the wine. Since 2005 we’ve had no problem with premox.
Should you decant Burgundy?
Young Burgundy can be decanted one hour before serving. Though after ten years I prefer to avoid doing it because you miss some of the complexity of the aromas.
Are all your vineyards old vines?
It’s important that we have some young vines for the colour, and some older vines 70-80 years old for the character, density and purity of the terroir. But it’s important in each plot to maintain both. We replant about two hectares a year. It’s an important investment for the future.
How is 2020 looking?
It was a very warm vintage. For the first time in the history of Bouchard we started harvest on the 18th of August. We were worried about the temperatures and the drought, but in spite of that the whites are very classic. It reminds me of 2008 or 2014, with beautiful freshness and good expression.
Which wines are you most proud of?
I love Les Caillerets and Baby Jesus for the red wines; for the whites I’m a big fan of Chevalier Montrachet.