Wine Vault: Dominique Laurent Burgundy- Dominique Laurent 1994s and Friends

Dominique Laurent's arrival on the Burgundy negociant scene in the early 1990s was accompanied by more than a bit of controversy. A self-proclaimed practitioner of "200 percent new oak", Laurent's elevage practices included racking wine from one brand new barrel into another brand new barrel (hence the 200 percent), as well as a number of other, much less controversial practices such as hand bottling, and no filtration. Whether or not Laurent's cellar techniques improve the wines, his acumen in searching out fabulous examples of each climat for purchase has certainly been the engine that has driven Laurent's top quality train. His offerings range up and down the Cote d'Or, with dozens and dozens of different appellations often offered in minuscule quantities of 25 or 50 cases of wine. Consequently, searching out a particular Laurent bottling can be extremely difficult.

1994 is the first vintage where I had the opportunity to taste a series of Laurent wines in flights with similar appellations from other producers. His wines so clearly dominated the competition that I was left totally in the orbit of Laurent's fan club. Laurent's wines are often mentioned in the context of Madame Lalou Bize Leroy's negociant wines, though I find them quite different stylistically. I think Ponsot wines in a great vintage are closer in spirit to Laurent's wines, though he seems to get a bit more acidity in his bottlings (across the board), and perhaps even purer fruit tones. After tasting these 1994s, I was left with the conviction that Dominique Laurent is in the very top tier of Burgundy producers, and that his wines are certainly worth a special search.

The tasting notes are arranged by commune. I have included a couple of 1994 red Burgundy tasting notes for wines that were not sampled along side the Laurent wines. A few appear elsewhere in the site, and have been included here for ease in comparison. All in all, 1994 has more than its share of pleasant surprises. It is clear that we are witnessing a Burgundy renaissance that makes today's absurd claret pricing much easier to take.

1994 Nuits St. Georges "Les St. Georges"- Faiveley

The nose on this wine is lovely, with intense red fruit nose of cherry, strawberry, cinnamon, clove, coffee and cedary wood. On the palate the wine is medium-full and quite promising on the attack, but from the mid-palate back, this wine gets extremely unpleasant: astringent tannins bite back aggressively, and the finishing flavors are extremely stemmy and bitter. I really am perplexed with this wine, which offers such potential on the nose, and then falls apart so miserably on the palate. While age may mitigate some of the tannin, there is clearly not enough fruit to outlast the tannin, and the stemminess is not going anywhere. Not for me. 1997-2004? 84-86.

1994 Nuits St. Georges "Vaucrains"- Dominique Laurent

Laurent's '94 Vaucrains is also a fairly tannic, backward wine, but here, as opposed to the Faiveley Les St. Georges, there is plenty of fruit to cover up the tannin. The nose is deep, closed, and excellent, with scents of briary cassis and plum fruit, meaty tones, bitter chocolate, herbs, vinesmoke, and toasty new oak. Deep, backward and packed with fruit on the palate, with the firm, ripe tannins buried in thick fruit. The texture here is very atypical for 1994, with a depth to the fruit that reminds me more of 1993. Excellent wine in need of three or four years in the cellar. 2001-2012. 90.

1994 Nuits St. Georges "Chaignots"- Faiveley

This wine seems to have been hopelessly over-extracted in an attempt to give the wine more stuffing. The nose shares a stemmy quality with the Les St. Georges, and offers up notes of woodsmoke, earth, herbal nuances, and an odd inky quality to the bit of black fruit poking through. Quite full on the palate. but with a tough, hard, inky quality to the fruit, and astringent tannins on the finish. Both these 1994 Nuits from Faiveley seem very atypical of usually high-toned, stylish Faiveley house style. Even less interesting than the Les St. Georges. 1997-2000? 80.

1994 Nuits St. Georges "Les Cailles"- Robert Chevillon

A very impressive showing for a 1994: classic notes of black cherry, woodsmoke, bitter chocolate, herbs, venison, earth and a touch of toasty oak waft from the glass. While this wine is has very fine sweetness of fruit and depth of flavor, one is immediately struck by how much purer and "liqueur-like" the fruit component was in the 1993. Full-bodied, round, and quite complex on the palate, with reasonable attack, but real depth and grip showing through on the finish. There are a few tannins perking up at the end, so this wine should hold nicely for five to seven years. It is quite delicious, and quite a step up from the 1992s. 1996-2002. 89.

1994 Chambolle-Musigny "Les Amoureses"- Dominique Laurent

While it would seem possible to overlook this wine in a flight with Laurent's Bonnes-Mares, this wine is really only a half step behind that young legend in the making. The nose is magnificent, with scents of black cherry, plum, raspberry, chocolate, herb tones, a touch of game and a deft touch of vanillin oak. On the palate the wine is deep, fat and chocolatey, with beautiful delineation, a juicy core of fruit, moderate tannins, and a long, sumptuous finish. This wine may gain even further shape and complexity with additional bottle age, but like the Bonnes-Mares, I would hate to lose anything that is here right now in the hopes of gaining with bottle age. 1994 may be the vintage of zero sum games. Great stuff. 1997-2007. 92+.

1994 Bonnes-Mares- Jadot

I have always felt that Jadot's Bonnes-Mares is one of the strongest wines in their lineup. This is the old Clair-Dau plot (located in the Morey St. Denis slice of Bonnes-Mares) that produced so many excellent wines prior to the selling off of the domaine. For whatever reason, the 1994 is extremely unsuccessful: deep and earthy on the nose, with scents of chocolate, smoke, inky fruit, and molasses. On the palate the wine is medium-bodied and lacking in flesh, with inky, stemmy tones and a note of stewed fruit on the finish. Hard to believe that this is Bonnes-Mares that Andre Gagey would be proud of. 1997-2000? 82.

1994 Bonnes-Mares- Comte de Vogue

This wine was quite young and unevolved at this early stage. Initially, the nose offered up the purest red cherry tone that I was struck by its similarity in fruit tone to the 1972 Bonnes-Mares. So of course I guessed Les Amoureses! With air, this cuvee's telltale aromas of blackberry, smoke, herbs, venison, violets, and toasty oak came on strongly. While lovely, this wine did not share the same focus and delineation that the De Vogue Chambolle AC showed a few nights previously. Full-bodied, potentially lush and velvety, and quite serious on the palate. The attack starts out just a bit diffuse, but the wine really comes on from the mid-palate back. A lovely note of bitter chocolate on the finish augers very well for this wine down the road. We tasted this wine only a week and a half after it landed in the US, and it clearly has still not recovered completely from its trans-Atlantic voyage. Whit a bit more time, it will make a very delicious bottle of wine for drinking over the next seven years. 1997-2005. 89.

1994 Bonnes-Mares- Dominique Laurent

Can there be a better wine made in the Cote d'Or in 1994? I would not hesitate to stick this into a tasting of 1990 Grand Crus! The profound nose explodes from the glass with scents of ripe plums, cherry, venison, vinesmoke, mustard seed, coffee, underbrush, Vosne-like spices, minerals, and plenty of vanillin oak. Huge, ripe and opulent on the palate, with wave after wave of sweet fruit, laser-like focus, modest tannins, and a long, phenomenally complex finish. With extended air, just a whisper of the "200 percent new oak" wood tannin poked through, so I would argue for drinking this delicious wine over the next few years. It may indeed get better still, but when a wine tastes this extraordinary right now, I see little sense in rolling the dice and waiting to see how the wine will evolve. Unless of course, one is sitting on a couple of cases. Profound juice. 1997-2007. 95+.

1994 Musigny Vieilles Vignes- Comte De Vogue

This has to be one of the handful of top wines in 1994. De Vogue has been on quite a tear since 1988, and their performance in the "off" years has eclipsed that of the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. Only Leroy seems to routinely do this well in off vintages! The nose is classic Moose: red cherry, strawberry, coffee, mustard seed, tobacco, ginger, roses, smoke and toasty new oak. Deeper and much more complex than the 1992, the wine shows fine depth and richness on the mid-palate, a medium-full personality, modest tannins, and a long, complex finish. Still not as focused and nuanced as it will be with a couple of years' cellaring, this is a fine, fine effort from De Vogue. 2000-2012. 93+.

1994 Musigny- Roumier

I have a strong preference for the 1994 vintage over the 1992s, and this is amplified at Domaine Roumier. Roumier has beautifully captured the potential of the vintage, turning out wines that are medium-bodied, but fresh, poised and perfumed. The '94 Musigny is a lovely wine: scents of plum, black cherry, woodsmoke, coffee, roses, minerals, and a touch of new wood wafting from the glass. Medium-bodied, round and well-etched on the palate, with bright, sweet fruit, fine acidity, and just a whisper of tannin on the finish. I would opt for giving this wine a couple of years in the cellar, and then consuming it over the next five. Delicious stuff. 1999-2005. 92.

1994 Gevrey-Chambertin "Clos St. Jacques"- Jadot

Here is another of the old Clair-Dau holdings that has been responsible for dozens of great wines over the last few decades. It is often one of Jadot's strongest wines as well, but the 1994 is not showing particularly well out of the blocks. The nose is oddly dulled, without any outward signs of sweetness or brightness: scents of cassis, herb tones, chocolate, earth, smoke, and Gevrey's oyster shell notes waft from the glass. The bouquet is certainly complex enough, but where is the vibrancy of young pinot? Dull, full, inky and muddled on the palate, with no shape, no focus, and little hope. If this is just an awkward phase, and a serious wine eventually emerges, it will be a small miracle. 1999-2005? 80-82.

1994 Gevrey-Chambertin "Lavaux St. Jacques"- Dominique Laurent

I understand that this wine comes from Bernard Maume in Gevrey. It is a fabulous example, with an explosive bouquet of cassis, black cherry, wild strawberries, grilled meats, coffee, herbs, and cedary, spicy wood. Medium-full and intensely-flavored on the palate with great nascent complexity, tangy acids, and a long, modestly-tannic, stunning finish. Like the Laurent's Les Amoureses, I am hard pressed not to drink this in the multiple glories of its youth. This is as fine an example of Lavaux St. Jacques as I have had the pleasure to taste. Grand Cru quality without a doubt.

1994 Mazis-Chambertin- Faiveley

I had odd experiences with this wine out of the blocks in 1993, so it may eventually right itself in 1994 as well. Right now this is extremely unpleasant stuff to taste: the nose is marred by an off-putting, sour note of grapefruit and stemmy, asparagus tones. Underneath is some good plummy fruit and notes of grilled meat, but they are buried deep right now. On the palate the wine is medium-bodied, with a nasty green streak running right down the middle, leaving an overall impression of a very sour, barely ripe wine. I do not know what accounts for this streak of grapefruit on the nose and palate, but a couple of Faiveley's 1993s (Mazis-Chambertin and Corton Clos des Cortons) also displayed this for the first five or six months after shipping, and then lost the character with further bottle age. Hopefully the same will happen here. ???? ????

1994 Mazis-Chambertin- Dominique Laurent

This also sourced from Bernard Maume in Gevrey, and, like the Lavaux St. Jacques, this is extraordinary juice. Mazis-Chambertin is often one of my least favorite Grand Crus in Gevrey, as most wines from this climat tend towards the iodine and sauvage side of Gevrey-Chambertin. However, Laurent's '94 Mazis is extremely elegant and fruit driven, with an explosive bouquet of plum, cassis, grilled meats, bitter chocolate, herbs, minerals, and a delicate touch of new oak. On the palate the wine is extremely, extremely long, with great depth and extract, fine soil inflection, ripe tannins, and fabulous complexity on the finish. This is not far off the quality of Laurent's Bonnes-Mares and Chambertin Clos de Beze! Great stuff! 1997-2010. 94.

1994 Chambertin Clos de Beze- Jadot

Ask knowledgeable Burgundy lovers familiar with Jadot's top red wines their favorites, and Chambertin Clos de Beze is one of the two or three perennial favorites. While it is made in the tightly-knit, soil-driven house style of Jadot (not one of my favorite styles), the wine has always been impeccably well-made. However, the 1994, at best, showed extremely awkward in this round of tastings. The nose is very generic for this wine, with scents of blackberry fruit, pepper, herbs, earth and ink. Usually, Jadot's Clos de Beze is very strongly marked by notes of oyster shell and iodine, signature tones of Clos de Beze's terroir, but in 1994 I cannot find any of this wine's usual character. Medium-full, dull and overly tannic on the palate, with modest depth of non-vibrant fruit, and tough, hard tannins sticking out on the finish. Given how well-made this wine usually is, I cannot help but think this is an off bottle. Yet, it shares a number of unpleasant characteristics with other Jadot 1994s, so this may well be another swing and a miss in 1994. I would exercise caution. 1999-2005? 80-84?

1994 Chambertin Clos de Beze- Faiveley

Faiveley's '94 Clos de Beze shares the awkward notes of grapefruit and asparagus that plague some of his other 1994s, but underneath this odd veneer is a wine of excellent depth, opulence and substance. The nose is very deep and complex, with scents of cherry, plum, herb tones, venison, chocolate, minerals, and vanillin oak laying in wait under the grapefruit. On the palate, in the context of the vintage, this is one of the biggest and most serious examples of Faiveley Clos de Beze that I have ever tasted. There seems to be a real effort here to pump up the density and thickness of fruit in this bottling. In previous vintages, Faiveley's Clos de Beze has always been, purposefully or not, one of the lightest, most delicate wines made from the climat. But not in 1994. Clearly, this is a watershed vintage stylistically for, at least, Faiveley's Clos de Beze. The finish is long, well-delineated, ripely-tannic, and very light on its feet, with plenty of covering fruit. If the annoying "green" notes go away with bottle age, this will be a truly fine bottle of Burgundy. 2000-2010. 87-91?

1994 Chambertin Clos de Beze- Dominique Laurent

Like Laurent's Bonnes-Mares and Mazis-Chambertin, the 1994 Clos de Beze is a rich, opulent, fabulously complex wine that belies its vintage. The nose explodes from the glass with scents of black cherry, plum, loads of grilled meats, coffee, herb tones, vinesmoke, sous bois, minerals and a fine coating of toasty new oak. Deep, full and totally profound on the palate, with a huge core, perfect balance, moderate tannins, a big, rippling wave of sweet fruit, and a long, complex, multi-dimensional finish. As great as this wine is, I think I have to give the nod to Laurent's Bonnes-Mares in 1994, as it possesses just a bit more focus and tightness of structure. But both of these wines are towering pinnacles of 1994 red Burgundy that could easily be mistaken for 1990s! 1997-2010. 95.