Drink or Hold: Burgundy, Where Parker Got it Wrong

Today we feature a guest post from Gerald (Jerry Clark). Jerry has written for L’occasion in the past, recently with his thoughts on wine as an investment. This month he shares perspective on Burgundy wines, a great fit for our readers between a two-part series on Burgundy.  Jerry has a wide scope of experience with drinking and cellaring wine, and in this piece he shares his findings in an authentic way, including his argument that Robert Parking is missing out.

Please share your thoughts. What do you think of aged Burgundy?

Red and White Burgundy Wines
A Tasting of Exceptional Burgundy Wines
Drink or Hold: Burgundy, Where Parker Got it Wrong by Gerald Clark

I just took a quick glance at my May 31 issue of Wine Spectator, going directly to the featured section on Burgundy. I have been a fan of that region for many years, following its vintage news and grower notes with some interest. Perhaps because I have always been trying to uncover that producer doing good things that I can afford.  I do cellar some Premier and Grand Cru’s, but these go back to a time when they were more reasonably priced, which is not the case in the past few years. Given my Burgundy stock in the cellar I am particularly interested in the vintage charts provided in this Wine Spectator issue for the Côte de Nuits and the Côte de Beaune. Their aging comments over ten years, from 2014 to 2005, are identical for each area.  They advise drinking the 2007, holding the 2005, and either drinking or holding the other eight years. In fine print at the bottom of their charts they list nine noteworthy vintages from 2003 to 1985, without distinguishing Nuits or Beaune.

I have nothing to add or subtract from what is noted. I believe that pinot noir from Burgundy in good vintages can age like other well made red wines. Sadly, in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s very few quality years appeared. Based upon wines that I drank from that era I think only five vintages offered candidates worthy of cellaring long term (10+ years). Yet I retain memories of some very enjoyable bottles, and wish I still had a few. Even Parker seemed to agree on red Burgundy’s affinity to age when in his second Wine Buyer’s Guide (1989) he proposed a Côte de Nuits storage window of 4-30 years, and Côte de Beaune from 4-20 years. Then something happened, and by his third edition of the guide (1993) he dramatically reduced his cellaring forecast down to 4-15 years in both areas. This following the bright lights of 1988, 1989, 1990, unrivalled for three successive red Burgundy vintages in well over 100 years. At this point I began to seriously doubt that Parker was fair-minded, as I totally disagreed with him based upon personal experience. But it was not until he published his fourth edition (1995) that I broke ranks with the legendary vinous soothsayer. For the first time in his guides he gives serious attention to many things surrounding Burgundy aside from individual producers, formatting his lesson by listing seventeen questions he considers fundamental to appreciate what is to be found there and then supplying the answers to each. This extract comes from his “response” to the query “What is the optimum age at which to drink red and white burgundy?”

“As for the big red and white wines of Burgundy’s Côte d’Or, while it is a matter of taste, if readers are buying burgundy and not drinking it within its first 10 years of life, I am convinced that they will be disappointed by most bottles opened after that time. Even the most rugged, concentrated, intense red and white burgundies seem to shed their tannins surprisingly fast and reach a plateau of maturity 5 to 6 years after the vintage. At that point they begin to lose their freshness, and decay sets in after 10 to 12 years.” ~Robert Parker

His lecture on Burgundy, which is titled THE “REAL” REALITIES OF BURGUNDY, continued into the fifth edition (1999) and the sixth, and final, edition (2002). The extract I show above appears unchanged in these last three editions. That he did not alter them over time suggests he was just bull headed. For me it is something deeper. Burgundy just isn’t his cup of tea. What else can I think, given his remark in my extract that “Even the most rugged, concentrated, and intense red and white burgundies…” These are not descriptors anyone I know would use upon drinking a glass of Burgundy. Time and again when I am enthralled by an especially good example the word that most often comes to mind is finesse. Parker has left his imprint of what wine should taste like in many corners, but happily not in Burgundy. They are on a roll now unlike anything they have ever seen, and they owe none of it to Robert Parker.

Other Articles by Jerry Clark

Wine as an Investment: Burn After Reading

Famous Line from Jerry McGuire Works Again in Napa




11 Comments Add yours

  1. JimLockard says:

    Excellent article. I believe that any projection of wines ageing over 10 years is going to have some hits and misses (with the possible exception of Bordeaux and some Napa red wines). Two bottles from the same cellar can be very different after a decade. On the whole, Parker has historically received too much credit for a very broad knowledge of all wines, which was probably impossible in the mid-to-late 20th Century and is certainly impossible today, with the proliferation of labels, techniques, and AVA’s with no real guiding rules as to what is grown and how it is produced.
    I am moving to Lyon, France this year, and I look forward to gaining a more in-depth knowledge of Burgundy wines.


    1. mavenclark says:

      I lived in Lyon from 1988 to 1994, and it is during my time there that my Pinot Noir palate made significant strides. Then again, a short distance south and I was in Syrah heaven. At that time I passed over what was going on in Beaujolais, a mistake I would correct immediately now. Call to arrange appointments before you travel, and the hospitality shown you will be long remembered.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. While the focus of your article was decidedly red, my recent experiences with white wines from the region would echo Parker’s position. Wines not even ten years old are often badly oxidized, rendering them undrinkable. This is a decided departure from my experience a decade ago when I fell hard for the delights offered by Burgundian Chardonnay. I would advise not to purchase whites unless the buyer plans to consume them and I think the first five years.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sorry. I am writing this on my phone as I board a plane and did not catch the auto-correct. The last line should read “…consume them within the first five years.”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. mavenclark says:

    I did only have red in my sites in writing this piece. Would not disagree when it comes to Chardonnay. Of course there can be a bottle that surprises completely, and one did once in my experience. A Louis Latour 1971 Chevalier Montrachet Les Demoiselles. Put that is a long story.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree that Burgundy still holds a romance because they don’t really make wine looking for Parker points. Its just unfortunate that after 3 bad vintages (for volume), quality Burgundy is becoming priced beyond the reaches of the average drinker.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. mavenclark says:

    True, there is so little of it, relatively speaking, at reasonable prices, so one must scratch and scratch. For me that has taken me into Savigny-les-Beaune, Santenay and Rully in past couple of years.


  7. winesnoop says:

    Interesting read…I’ve a lot more to learn about Burgundy…can you recommend a few affordable reds to get started?!


    1. Jerry says:

      One of the things to sort through is what can be found here, as unlike Bordeaux supply is far more limited. Hopefully your merchant can point you in the right direction. As I noted in an earlier comment I think good value can still be found in Santanay and Savigny-les-Beaune. A basic red generic Bourgogne bottling from a notable producer in a good year is another way to enter. On the Net look into Garagiste as a potential source. They seem to buy right through direct contact with their sources, but do not offer up a list to casually mull over. Their frequent specific offerings from many places trade quickly.
      Good hunting, and drinking.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I am a fan of aged red Burgundy. Whites are more iffy these days but always worth the potential heartache.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jerry says:

      With you all the way, Michelle!

      Liked by 1 person

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