Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Bruno Clair’s Burgundy

Few wines combine depth and elegance like Pinot Noir. And when done right, it can be the apogee of red wine drinking. Unfortunately, there is a fine line that separates the great Pinots from the simply good, and the good from the banal. It is indeed a precarious balancing act. The best Pinot strikes that perfect balance between acidity and tannin, between fruit, earth and spice. It is soft, delicate, yet powerful.

While more and more good pinot is being made around the world, much of the great is still to be found in Burgundy. Nowhere is the argument in favour of the existence of ‘terroir’ more evident than here; for as one travels the Côte de Nuits down through the Beaune, one encounters many seductive shades of Pinot, where subtlety and nuance is the barometer of difference.

As I sat down for lunch last week with Marsannay-based Bruno Clair at Club de Chasse et Pêche, I had my taste bud sensitivity on high (and my stomach ready and waiting). Bruno has an excellent website which details his vision, approach to winemaking and his full catalogue of wines, so I will not rehash that here. However, Bruno is a winemaker that produces some of Burgundy’s purest examples of Pinot, adopting an approach that involves back-breaking vineyard work and minimal intervention winemaking. Pierre’s invitation promised classic great Burgundy from one of the nicest winemakers I would ever meet… he was right on both counts. Here’s the rundown.

Morey-St. Denis Blanc 2002, En la Rue de Vergy, Bruno Clair (saq...$75)
A rich yet delicate chardonnay that maintained its freshness despite its obvious concentration. It reminded me of a Puligny-styled white Burgundy, lots of finesse with hints of citrus flowers combined with an almost sweet, almond-hazelnut nuttiness. Excellent.

Marsannay 2002, Longeroies, Bruno Clair (saq...$42)
Typical of this northern outpost of the Nuits, heavier tannins and darker fruits combined with a hint of minerality show a wine with more power than finesse. I would like to see this bottle in a couple of years.

Savigny-les-Beaunes 2000, 1er Cru, La Dominode, Bruno Clair (saq...$76)
Savigny-les-Beaunes 2002, 1er Cru, La Dominode, Bruno Clair
100-year-old vines and a relatively rich soil combine to give a wine with deep colour, earthy pinot notes, dark cherry flavours and a hint of sweet spice. Most striking was the lineage and the remarkable constistency between the two vintages. While the 2000 had added hints of raspberry and chocolate overtones, the 2002 was incredible with big, rich yet approachable tannins, super racey fruit and more licorice-type spice.

Gevrey Chambertin 2000, 1er Cru, Clos du Fonteny, Bruno Clair (saq...$97)
Bruno described it quite appropriately as the ‘Chambolle of Gevrey.’ A wonderfully soft and fragrant Pinot, and while it paled slightly when tasted next to the more robust Cazetiers and Dominode, its ethereal bouquet of strawberries and delicate mouth feel were the best of the bunch with my salmon tartare, and a close second to the 1990 Cazetiers with my dorade; never underestimate the value of finesse.

Gevrey Chambertin 2002, 1er Cru, Cazetiers, Bruno Clair
Gevrey Chambertin 2000, 1er Cru, Cazatiers, Bruno Clair (saq...$97)
Gevrey Chambertin 1990, 1er Cru, Cazatiers, Bruno Clair

I'll put these three together, as the lineage was exceptional. As this bottle gets older, it simply amplifies the more enticing elements in the younger vintages. This is a satin-textured Gevrey with floral notes and exceptionally ripe, red fruit flavours. The 2000 had an incomparable lushness and the 1990, with its lilacs and even softer, more delicate fruits, is testament to how well Burgundy can age. The best of the best.


Anonymous said...

Excellent take on Bruno Clair´s wines. How would you describe the Longerois in terms of weigth ?, I know his wines have a reputation of being on th eligth side ?

caveman said...

The only one of his wines that I tasted that I would characterize as 'light' would be perhaps the Fonteny and that would not be telling the whole story... In terms of the Langerois, compared to the few Marsannay's that I have tasted (Fougeraie de Beauclair's St. jacques and Favieres, Bouvier), I would say that it was a touch richer than the average, but even with it's 'rougher' structure, it maintained that Clair elegance..

Dave Neale said...

I had a bottle of 1998 Clos du Fontenay a couple of years back that was the best Chambertin I have yet tasted. He makes lovely wines....

diane of nyc said...

Thanks so much for this post; really well thought out. I just open a bottle of the 1990 les cazetiers last week. memorable indeed, with an unforgettable nose: tobacco smoke and lilacs or irises (debate amongst the troops as to which). it was so lingering that even a tbl of wine left in a glass that i carried to my bedside table was noticeable as i was reading. for me, all of his wines are elegant, but with sufficent weight and specificy to never be 'lightweights'.

thanks again for your spotlight on bruno clair.