Many years ago I went to Burgundy for the first time with friends, like-minded travelers who showed me the ropes, shared recommendations, and opened their cellars. When we get together, dinners are filled with old bottles, often-told travel stories, and so much laughing my abs are sore in the morning.
A month or so ago, I found myself with them again. The dinner felt like a celebration for surviving the first half of this year, and the aged Burgundy beauties we shared, nearly all from 1995, contributed.
What is it about aged Burgundy that makes it so special? Young wines from the region are often rough—boisterous toddlers who can come across too big, too tannic, too acidic and too mineral-driven, even if all of those things are in balance. And balance is what one looks for when tasting these wines. Balanced going in the bottle hopefully means they’ll be balanced coming out of the bottle. And once the toddler grows up, the wine is an integrated, well-rounded, polished, well, adult.
Aging can be tricky. Vintages don’t always reveal themselves right away. Quality producers make wine with 15 years (for a 1er Cru) to 20 years (for a grand cru) in mind, generally. Still, to open a properly aged bottle of Burgundy is to revel in the flavors of everything that makes Burgundy such a passion—fruit with leather and mushroom and earth. And sometimes a vintage needs even longer in order to shine, like the 1995s.
The wine-collector friend who assembled the bottles confirmed it. “I bought heavy when these came out. 1995 was supposed to be a good vintage,” he told me. “But they just never showed like they were supposed to. A lot of people dumped their 95s. But things change.” He held on to his and is glad he did. “In just the last few years, the 95s have really come into their own.”
Wine styles are changing and many Burgundies are approachable sooner—“easily accessible,” winemakers say. And they’re great wines, but no one knows yet if they’ll show the same classic elegance in 25 years as the wines we sampled that night.
We began with two old favorite whites, the 2003 Chandon de Briailles Grand Cru Corton le Charlemagne and the 2007 Rapet Pernand-Vergelesses 1er Cru Le Clos du Village. Both producers make classically-styled Burgundies with an underpinning of limestone and the soft roundness characteristic of the Savigny-les-Beaune and Corton growing areas.
After snacks (with appropriate social distancing), we spread out at the large dining room table with a side of grilled salmon and a horizontal of 1995s from four favorite producers.
1995 Heresztyn Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Le Goulets: This wine featured the same classic Gevrey “tang” with great fruit and that distinctively plummy characteristic. It was in great condition, just stunning.
1995 Chandon de Briailles Pernand-Vergelesses Ile de Vergelesses: Gorgeous with all of the minerality showing through that Ile de Vergelesses is known for. Great fruit and a finish that was a mouthful of stone. Just gorgeous.
1995 Rapet Pernand Vergelesses Les Vergelesses: “The full package” says my note. Perfect, beautiful balance. Amazing that 25 years later, a wine can be this integrated and be such a pleasure to drink.
1995 Domaine Michel Lafarge Volnay Vendages Selectionnees: This was showing its age, as you’d expect with a village wine. Still, even as the fruit was largely gone, the wine retained balance. One of the few village wines that could still show the elegance that’s a hallmark of a Larfarge Volnay.
My notes grew a little sketchy later, but my knowledge of these winemakers and their perspectives on wine remained clear in my mind. As we discussed, analyzed and compared the wines and their villages, we talked of travel and producers, and for an evening, the stresses of the rest of the world lifted.