(Shell)-Fishing For Great Whites

I love white Burgundy but, when it comes to the range of terroirs and producers, I frequently feel like I have barely scratched the surface.  More than this, the prices for Premier Cru and Grand Cru can often be a real obstacle to dipping one's toe in the waters without the fear of losing a limb. Driven by that combined feeling of naiveté and frugality,  I went fishing for some affordable Great Whites to taste.  So, I lined up two village wines from Olivier Leflaive (samples kindly provided by Southern Wines).  I have to say, I was truly looking forward to these wines.

In anticipation, I had encouraged (begged) my wife to prepare some wonderful steamed mussels and baguette. So while I opened the wine and allowed it to breathe, the kitchen was progressively bathed in the glorious smell of mussels, shallots, diced tomatoes and warm, fresh-baked baguette.

I pulled the corks on the Leflaive 2010 Meursault ($45 USD) and the 2011 Puligny-Montrachet ($60 USD).  Although Meursault can produce some of the richest and fullest whites in Burgundy, they are frequently delicate when they are young. I was intrigued by what I would encounter.

Leflaive 2010 Meursault  - Initially the Meursault appeared delicate but it was also a little too cold for my palate.  I know some like their whites to feel like they just stepped off a King Crab boat on the Bering Sea but I like mine a little less palate-shocking (60F).  When I returned to the glass, 20 minutes later, the aromatics had emerged. Lime and lemon zest (and pith) rolled over hints of white flowers, chalk and fern leaf. It almost reminded me of spring, despite the impending snow-storm outside.

The mouth feel was soft and round, and served as a great contrast to the wonderfully enthusiastic front of palate attack of bright acidity.   It was clean and bright, showing citrus, bitter apple pit, white peach, apricot, buttered toast and perhaps a little spice.  As it warmed up (and again on the second day) the palate was softer still, and showed progressively greater evidence of the buttered toast element. Think of it a little like the interplay of clarified butter and fresh lemon squeezed over freshly steamed Maine lobster. And now I’m hungry all over again. I fear weight loss is not in my future. In the land of ratings, the Leflaive 2010 Meursault definitely warrants an 89+ point score and should be readily found from any good Sommelier on the corner (fine wine store).  

It’s counterpart on this occasion, the 2011 Puligny-Montrachet - kicked things up another notch or two. The high quality of Chardonnay produced truly there reflects a rarity of nature not unlike winning the lottery. A viticulturists Powerball or sorts, driven by climate, soil and the topographical context (limestone soils, climate, drainage, altitude, aspect).  Vines grow on elevated slopes that orient them to catch the best of the available sunshine while simultaneously forcing them the reach their roots deep into the soil in search of water.

Right out of the blocks, the aromatics of the the Puligny were much more prominent than in the Meursault, creamier and accompanied by great spice (hazelnut, almond). The nose was wrapped up in an intriguing and very lovely world of lemon zest, pear and almost smoky, stone dust/chalky minerality. Given the choice, THIS is the aromatic cloud I want to walk through when I enter the department store (or open a Chardonnay) and not the viscous, musky overly perfumed mutton dressed as Corton. 

The palate displayed a lovely complexity, with spiced poached pears, meyer lemon and apricot. There was a little more vanillin evident here than in the Meursault but it was well balanced. The mouth feel was smooth, like suede, though not so soft that it seems flabby. It retained a taut and energetic feel.  It was mouthwatering, clean and cleansing but the acidity and less overtly aggressive than the Meursault, and helped drive a long finish with a focused fruit core. 

Both wines performed wonderfully well with the mussels, and would equally support that outstanding lobster I mentioned at the start.  However, I won’t wait until my next lobster meal to buy some more of these, especially when there are plenty of fresh mussels waiting to by devoured with fresh baguette.  If you pick up a bottle or two, I trust you will find something similarly fun and delicious to enjoy with them.  If not, drop me a note and I will share my wife’s recipe for mussels.

In my book, the Puligny garners a little extra love (90-92 points). The structure, focus and complexity just edged out that of the Meursault, despite the additional cost. Both, however, do pass the "would I buy more?" test. These are beautifully constructed food wines, and well worth exploration with your favorite seafood. Go catch your own Great White. Happy fishing!



Anonymous said…
Fabulous write-up! Great job again....
Unknown said…
Andy, you know Burgundy wine is a joy to drink. You give the reader an insider's peek into the joy of white Burgundy that many Americans have not experienced. Readers need to find these and break open a bottle to enjoy for themselves!

Well said.
Unknown said…
Cheers Greg, the more I delve into Burgundy, the more I realize how mush there is to explore - at (almost) all points on the price spectrum. I look forward to their continued exploration.
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