If you are lucky enough to visit Beaune, one address you do not want to miss is the historic domaine Bouchard Père et Fils. In 2020 they will have occupied the original Château de Beaune for a round 200 years, having been in less prestigious digs the previous century. They have been filling the cellar ever since, and today hold what I have heard is the world’s largest collection of wines from the 19th century, all the way back to an 1846 Meursault ‘Charmes’ Premier Cru which is no doubt at last entering its window of prime drinkability. Seeing this living history on the guided tour is quite moving, and if you are very lucky then afterward they will serve you lunch in the spectacular orangerie, all very civilized indeed.
Corton-Charlemagne is of course the famous Grand Cru site that was originally planted to pinot noir, but changed to chardonnay at the request of Charlemagne himself (or, one suspects, his wife) because while it was his favourite wine, the pinot kept staining his white beard. So, thanks to Charles the Great, for the last 1300-odd years you can get your Corton in red or white. Only in Burgundy does one get these kinds of stories. But I digress.
This evening we are on the white, accompanying cabillaud avec crevettes grises – poached cod fillet with a sauce of local north sea shrimp, about as Belgian a specialty as one will find. I was looking forward to the wines, but as ever the terrible spectre of premature oxidation hangs over these, so there is always a bit of trepidation. That scourge aside, by my reckoning age 10-15 should be in the sweet spot for wines of this pedigree. Let’s see.
2004 Bouchard Père et fils Corton-Charlemagne. Easily the lightest of the three, silvery straw, as can be seen from the picture. Fresh citrus, popcorn nose. The freshest of the three wines, grapefruit and minerals on the palate. I like the fresh citrusy profile here, certainly the strongest of the three for me, and the most youthful. Beauty.
2005 Bouchard Père et fils Corton-Charlemagne. The deepest gold, a shade more than the 07. Buttery, mushroom, minerally nose. Soft attack, ripe style and somewhat woody, not much grip and feels pretty evolved. I wouldn’t necessarily call it premature oxidization – it is 14 years old – but it certainly lacks the energy of the 04. A bottle of this last year was more impressive.
2007 Bouchard Père et fils Corton-Charlemagne. Almost as deep as the 05. Yellow plum, pie crust nose. Bit of cooked apple in the finish is an oxidation worry, though it’s not offputting here. Less evolved than the 05, but I had a more advanced bottle than this previously. Hard to see this going in a positive direction from here.
What I don’t know about Burgundy is a lot. Maybe my expectations for how long these wines should age are unreasonable (Bouchard says 7-10+ years for this bottling, so I may have been pushing it tonight). But if you have to drink them before they are 10, I start to wonder whether they are good buys. In any case, this evening reinforced my previous impression that 2004 is the best white Burgundy vintage in my experience. I cannot recall having a bad one.