In memory of Jerry Clark, the Wine Maven, November 16, 1939 – April 17, 20019.
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?
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.