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Burgundy's class of 2009 makes a splash

Dave DeSimone
| Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2011

Beginning in 1990 and through 1991, 1993, 1996 and, arguably, 1998, Burgundy enjoyed a "golden age" of fine vintages with distinct personalities and solid cellar-aging potential.

Then came 1999.

Right from the start, the vintage's red wines unfolded dark, bewitching aromas and lush fleshiness balanced beautifully by bright acidities and ripe tannins. Today, after more than 10 years, fine 1999 red Burgundies have begun to plateau and round into marvelous bottles. Like besotted lovers, Burgundy fans unravel with rapturous praise and passionate affection for the wines.

The wines arose after Mother Nature smiled broadly on Burgundy in 1999. A bountiful harvest of fully ripened grapes with mature tannins and sufficient acidities blessed even modest vineyards. Both journeyman and master winegrowers embraced the opportunity to make succulent, seductive wines.

Meanwhile when accomplished growers such as Charles Rousseau, the late Denis Mortet, and Pascal Lachaux at Domaine Robert Arnoux worked with premier cru and grand cru fruit, wines for the ages resulted.

Flash forward a decade.

The arriving 2009 red Burgundies have attracted tremendous attention after springing from another marvelous, vast vintage. The weather cooperated so completely that Clive Coates, the informative British wine writer now living in Burgundy, says he spent more time poolside than ever before.

In May, hail hit in the C?es de Nuits, but then warm and dry conditions prevailed through June. Brief July showers ensured just enough water, and a sunny, clear August allowed uneventful, complete ripening. September winds helped preserve acidities, and an early 2009 harvest ensued.

The largely rot-free pinot noir crop featured ripe skins and stems, intense aromas and sweet, concentrated flavors. Juicy fruitiness resulted making even young 2009 reds delicious for early drinking.

Carping critics question whether the wines have enough acidity and tannins to age gracefully over 10, 20 years or more. But the question becomes generally moot given the elevated prices for many top 2009 red Burgundies. Prices start at $85 and go up. But despair not.

As in 1999, conscientious winemakers at all levels achieved terrific results in 2009. Kudos to the PLCB for offering the following relatively modest, yet excellent values -- decant the wines for two hours or more to optimize pleasure:

2009 DPH-Domaine Patrick Hudelot Hautes-C?es de Nuits "Les Colombi?es," France (Luxury 18305; $21.99): Patrick Hudelot lives in Villars-Fontaine, a village off the beaten track in the hills west of the famed village of Nuits-Saint-Georges. This wine comes from Hudelot's estate vines in the lieu-dit vineyard "Les Colombi?es." Clay and limestone soils and plenty of direct sun prevail.

Fermentation and nine months aging in neutral vats preserved the grapes' fruity essence. The wine's ruby color offers bright cherry and violet aromas with a touch of pleasant spiciness. Pure, tart cherry flavors carry through fresh acidity and silky tannins. Highly recommended.

2009 Domaine Michel Sarrazin et Fils Mercurey "La Perri?e," France (Luxury 29783; $29.99): Brothers Guy and Jean-Yves Sarrazin's family has been handing down winegrowing savoir-faire from generation to generation in the C?e Chalonnaise region since 1671.

The brothers' labor intensive, focused approach on each vine and minimal chemical treatments produced fully ripened, vibrant fruit. For aging the wines, barrels exclusively form Burgundy's famed Tonnellerie Francois Fr?es impart subtle French oak notes.

This wine's dark ruby color unfolds black cherry and smoky notes. Pure, complex dark fruit flavors follow with well integrated oak accents, bright acidity and silky tannins. Highly recommended.

2009 Domaine Olivier P?e et Fils Santenay "Les Charms," France (Luxury 18302; $29.99): Winegrower Antoine Olivier's organic methods replace most chemical treatments with meticulous, focused work on the soils and individual vines. He fermented the wine traditionally using significant amounts of whole grape clusters with ripe stems for intriguing earthy touches. The wine's dark-ruby color offers spicy black-cherry aromas opening to rich, pure dark-fruit flavors. Silky tannins and mouthwatering acidity add terrific balance and backbone. Highly recommended.

2009 Maison Joseph Drouhin Volnay France (Luxury 28784; $44.99): As always, the Drouhin's combined assiduous work and low yields in the vineyard with meticulous winemaking and restrained elevage to take full advantage of the vintage's ample charms. Alluring berry and violet aromas with spicy touches open to round, ripe red-fruit flavors, fresh acidity and velvety tannins. Recommended.

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