Wine Vault: 1994 White Burgundy- Tough work if you can get it...

In most vintages of white Burgundy, I will have three to four times as many notes on the vintage by the time the wines have been landed here in the US for a year. However, when the early wines I taste leave me decidedly unimpressed with the quality of the vintage, I tend to put the pennies into other areas of the cellar. This was the case with the 1994s. I have found little to enthuse about since the first wines arrived here a little over a year ago. With the 1995s waiting in the wings (one of the greatest white Burgundy vintages I have ever seen!), and with plenty of the 1993s still hanging around, it was easy to sit out the 1994 white Burgundies. From my brief experience with the vintage, I would opt to search out only the „big threeƒ (Ramonet, Lafon and Coche-Dury), and save every available ruble for the 1995s. I tasted Lafons 1994s out of barrel very early on in their evolution, and they seemed quite forward, but clean and complex for the vintage. I am sure they are fine. Ramonets Ruchottes (see below) is a fine indicator that once again this domaine has transcended the vintage. Coche is always a safe bet. Other than these three, (and the top cuvees from Verget) there may be isolated successes, but none where the 1995 version of the same wine will not be much more rewarding. The one exception may well be the wines of Chablis, of which I have only tasted a couple. Reports are that the Chablisienne have been able to avoid the problems with soft acids and grey rot that plague the Cote de Beaune.

1994 Meursault Perrieres- Boyer-Martenot

This wine showed quite forward, but fairly well in the context of the vintage. The nose offered up classic Meursault notes of apple skin, hazelnuts, minerals, and buttery new oak. Medium-bodied and quite soft on the palate, but with decent flavors and just enough acidity to give a bit of structure to the finish. Good stuff, but awfully easy-going and not particularly marked by terroir for a Perrieres. Drink soon. 1996-1998. 87.

1994 Meursault Perrieres- Guy Roulot

Again, this is very classically Meursault on the nose: apples, peach skins, hazelnuts, minerals, and a stylish touch of vanillin oak. Medium-bodied, round, and better focused than many 1994s, with adequate acidity, a bit of fruit in reserve, and a fairly long, stylish finish. This wine has the best concentration and acidity of these Meursaults, but it is still very forward for a Roulot Perrieres. A good effort from what was clearly a very difficult vintage. 1996-1999. 88.

1994 Meursault Chevaliers- Fichet

Fichet is supposed to be one of the up and comers in Meursault, and while this wine was solid, I expected a bit more. The nose is quite tropical (almost California-like), with scents of bananas, passion fruit, peaches, and buttery oak. Obviously, this wine has a fair amount of bortytis brightening up the fruit. With extended breathing, it did hint a bit at Meursault terroir. Medium-full, round, and reasonably long on the palate, this is a wine that again needs early drinking, for it is quite precariously balanced. Not a bad drink, but not a very serious white Burgundy. 1996-1997. 86.

1994 Meursault Charmes „Vieilles Vignesƒ- Verget

I had ranked Verget up near the top of white Burgundy producers before these three wines, but never quite up there with the likes of Dominique Lafon and Jean-Marie Coche. However, it is time to re-evaluate! Compared to the early showings of Vergets top 1992s, this wine is a notable step up in terms of freshness and lightness of step. And yet, it is even more concentrated than Vergets top Î92 Premier Crus! Quintessential Meursault on the nose: buttered apples, lemon, hazelnuts, loads of minerals, spring flowers, and a whiff of new vanillin oak in the top register. Deep, rich, and very snappy on the palate, with a great core of fruit, zesty acidity, flawless structure and focus, and a huge, mouthful of fruit on the finish. This is absolutely delicious to drink now, but it has all the constituent components to age gracefully for five to seven more years. This is show-stopping stuff! 1996-2004. 95.

1994 Chassagne-Montrachet Caillerets- Bernard Morey

Bernard Morey makes very big, powerful wines that, while possessing some terroir, are more akin to California chardonnay than the likes of the Ramonets and Lafons of this world. Even in top vintages, Moreys wines are not my favorite stylistically, but they have their fans. I am not sure if this bottle was representative (Caillerets is usually one of Moreys better crus), but if it was, in 1994 this is a wine to avoid. The bottle did not show any obvious signs of corkiness or heat damage, but rather the telltale problems of rot. Rot-infected chardonnay tends to have a very muted fruit component and odd flavors of chocolate and premature oxidation. The aromas are most similar to a Hershey bar floating in a jug of turned cider for a few weeks. That is what this wine smelled like. Fat and formless on the palate, this is a wine that gives very little pleasure. Again, I must emphasize that I do not know the provenance of the bottle that I tasted. 78?

1994 Chassagne-Montrachet Chaumes Clos St. Abdon- Colin-Deleger

Unlike Bernard Morey, Colin-Deleger is one of my favorite producers in Chassagne. Michel Colin tends to make very stylish wines from his bevy of Premier Crus. That said, the Les Chaumes Clos St. Abdon bottling is one of my least favorite Colin Crus. It has a tendency to produce a rather heavy-handed example of Chassagne. In 1994, this predilection is coupled with apparent problems of rot as well. On the nose the wine is quite marked by overripe, tropical fruit tones of papaya, pineapple, toast, and buttery oak. With air a decidedly chocolatey tones came on- a clear indication of rot. Big, fat and formless on the palate, with a reasonable core of fruit, but no real structure or charm. This wine clearly shows the flaws of the vintage. Perhaps the least interesting wine I have yet tasted from Michel Colin. 78?

1994 Chassagne-Montrachet Ruchottes- Ramonet

Finally, a success for the vintage. This wine is very, very forward by Ramonet standards, and not especially concentrated, but the flavors are pure, the balance is excellent, and this is one of the few wines of the vintage to show any complexity and grip on the finish. The nose is lovely, with Ramonets telltale notes of peppermint and bacon fat coupled to apple, lemon butter, minerals, spring flowers, and squeaky clean vanillin oak. Full-bodied, crisp, and quite complex on the palate, with fine focus, and enough acidity to give the wine shape, cut and freshness. While the wine is very forward by Ramonets steely standards, it should drink well for three to four years, and prove to be one of the longest-lived wines of the vintage. Tasty stuff! 1996-2000. 91+.

1994 Chassagne-Montrachet Virendots- Marc Morey

This low profile Chassagne domaine is now being represented by Robert Kacher Selections. Forever a „hands-onƒ importer, it remains to be seen how active Monsieur Kacher and his new oak regimen will become in this domaine. I tasted 1993s that were imported by Bobby Kacher, and they did indeed taste over-oaked. However, this bottle was not imported by Mr. Kacher, and it showed all of the style, complexity, and understated power that has made this one of my favorite domaines in Chassagne. What I like best about Moreys Virendots (a tiny premier cru tucked up on the hill of Chassagnes best premier crus between Caillerets and Ruchottes) is its stylistic similarities to the wines of Ramonet. This is the only non-Ramonet wine that displays the unique aromatic note of fresh peppermint. The 1994 is one of the shining successes of this very, very difficult vintage, with a lovely bouquet of buttered apples, pear, minerals, peppermint, floral tones, and a deft touch of vanillin oak. Full-bodied, crisp, and quite clean on the palate, with none of the off flavors of rot in evidence. The wine is quite forward and easy going, but with enough acidity to give the wine focus and freshness on the palate. Again, I emphasize that this is the „European cuveeƒ of this wine; I do not know if the cuvee imported by Robert Kacher is similar in nature! The finish is long, complex, and very impressive for a 1994. I would certainly opt for drinking it over the next couple of years, but it is one of the stars of the vintage. 1996-1999. 90.

1994 Puligny-Montrachet Perrieres- Carillon

I keep hearing that this domaine is really going places, but perhaps there was nowhere to go in a vintage such as 1994. It is a pity that my first encounter with the more serious Louis Carillon domaine is this 1994. The nose is also showing signs of rot, with scents of chocolate intermingled whit apple, pear, minerals, flowers and vanillin oak. On the palate the wine is soft, medium-full, and reasonably long. As with so many of the 1994s, it could use more stuffing, and some decent acidity. Essentially this is an easygoing wine that is not entirely clean and a pretty poor value at anything over $9.99! Drink very quickly. 84.

1994 Puligny-Montrachet Pucelles- Leflaive

Leflaive is alleged to be one of the shining successes of the vintage. If this bottle is any indication, I would have to strongly disagree. The bouquet is clean and reasonable enough, with scents of lemon, pineapple, grilled nuts, minerals and vanillin oak. On the palate the wine is quite soft and modestly concentrated, with stylish winemaking, but a trace of phenolic bitterness on the finish. All in all, this is a soundly made wine that will drink satisfactorily for the next eighteen months. In the context of the vintage, it is not bad. However, this wine is bloody expensive! At anywhere from $80.00-$100.00 a bottle, it is an unmitigated disaster. It is clearly outclassed by the decidedly less expensive Ramonet Ruchottes, and should have been released for much less money, or declassified. Where is the integrity? 1996-1998. 86.

1994 Puligny-Montrachet Combettes- Sauzet

Gerard Boudot, proprietor of Domaine Etienne Sauzet, is one of the Cote DOrs finest winemakers. I have been a fan for years, but could find little the enthuse about with this wine. I suspect that rot was again a major culprit here, as the wine showed decidedly „cardboardyƒ aromas and flavors that I associate with excessive filtration. If only the fruit tones were as pronounced as the cardboard! A dull, mute, lifeless nose shows some scents of lemon, minerals, grilled nuts and toasty oak. On the palate the wines flavors are equally eviscerated, with the cardboardy tone again dominant. If this bottle is representative, I would avoid this wine like the plague. Another grossly overpriced bottle! Drink soon, if you must. 84?

1994 Puligny-Montrachet Combettes- Boillot

Jean Marc Boillot is the brother in law of Gerard Boudot, and now the keeper of approximately one-third of the vines formerly comprising Domaine Sauzet. His style is much less classic than the Sauzet wines made by Boudot, and though they are quite well-made, they are a notch or two down on my hierarchy than the wines of Sauzet. His style is for late-picked fruit that shows plenty of tropical nuances. True to his style, the 1994 Combettes offers up a bright, tropical nose of papaya, overripe pears, minerals, spring flowers and vanillin oak. Quite full and tropical on the palate, with pretty good flavor delineation and a stylish, long finish. While not my paradigm of great white Burgundy, it was by far the class of this flight of premier cru Pulignys. It should drink well for a couple of years. 1996-1999. 88+.

1994 Corton-Charlemagne „Vieilles Vignesƒ- Verget

A freak of the vintage, Jean-Marie Guffens was able to leave this hanging on the vine until mid-October, thus taking advantage of the great burst of sun at the end of the vintage. As a result, this wine possesses a level of ripeness that is extraordinary for 1994. The great ripeness of fruit, this wine is not a classic, „mineral-infusedƒ Corton-Charlemagne, but rather a wine that reminds one more of a big Batard-Montrachet. The nose is quite closed and brooding, with scents of ripe pears, pineapple, honey, wheat toast, butter, vanillin oak, and a beguiling, herbal undertone. Deep, powerful, and still quite adolescent on the palate, with tight acids, great extract, and a long, brooding finish. At first taste, I thought the Meursault Charmes was even longer; however, when one goes back to the Meursault after this wine, it comes off as a bit light! This is a great, great wine (wine of the vintage?) that clearly needs three or four years to really hit its stride. It should drink magnificently for another decade or more after that. 2000-2015. 96+.

1994 Corton-Charlemagne- Louis Latour

I really do not know what to make of this wine! The flavors are quite undeveloped, but the wine is not particularly backward. Scents of pear, apple, lemon, hints of grilled nuts, minerals, and sweet vanillin oak are all available on the nose, but the wine lacks focus and sense of nuance. In addition, there are „offƒ aromas of grassy tones, chocolate, and herbs. I am not even sure that tasted blind I could call this chardonnay! It is quite like a barrel sample, but one I would not be confident of assessing. Full-bodied and quite concentrated on the palate, with adequate acidity, alcohol and length. Again though, there is a distinct lack of focus. Will this wines shape emerge with more bottle age? For now, this is a tough call. 86?