Why the 2004 vintage is the one to watch for lovers of classic Pinot Noir.
In the ever-expanding world of Pinot Noir,
For lovers of the taste of velvet-smooth but lively Pinot Noir, 2004 is the
Tasting the vintage
The first indication that 2004 was a notable vintage was the great success of the white wines, which I tasted during visits in June 2006. Later that year, I returned to taste the reds in September and November. During my last visit, autumn had barely arrived and the days were still warm and sunny—a perfect time to taste at some of the great domaines without shivering in their cellars. Focusing on the Côte de Nuits, my goal was to find the best wines of the vintage.
The Côte de Nuits is the long, majestic slope that runs north of Beaune, the wine capital of
Overall, 2004 is a "typical" vintage, the kind that made
"There is tranquility in the wines of 2004," says Aubert de Villaine, co-owner of
De Villaine is one of the many producers united in their enthusiasm for the 2004s and agreeably surprised. "In all the reds, you see freshness and harmony," asserts Etienne Grivot of Domaine Jean Grivot in Vosne-Romanée. His tasting table, like many others even in the top domaines, is an upturned barrel, in a cellar surrounded by barrels full of wine. "There is so much fruit in these wines. This is a really enjoyable vintage."
He continues: "2004 is the sort of vintage I like. There was lots of work to do and I enjoy that. It has given us wines that are very fresh, very Pinot Noir. It wasn't an exceptional year, but it is good if you worked in the vineyards." And, in a reflection of the technical changes that have occurred throughout
What is so fascinating about these Burgundies is the way they reflect their terroir. It's much more obvious than in the 2003 wines, where the richness and weight from the heat of the summer masked the differences among the appellations. The same terroir differences so apparent in the white wines of Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chevalier-Montrachet (see "White Burgundy: The Triumph of Terroir," December 1, 2006) is also true in the red wines. This is best expressed in the Côte de Nuits, which, according to Vial "produced better balanced wines" than the Côte de Beaune. He should know: He arrived at Domaine Bertagna in November 2006 from Domaine de Montille in Volnay, so he experienced the 2004 harvest in the Côte de Beaune firsthand.
The Clos de Tart Vineyard in the village of Morey-St. Denis
I talked with de Villaine about the vintage in his small office, packed with papers and books. "The grand and premier crus show their superiority and their individual characters more in 2004 than in 2003," he said. "There is some concentration, but the balance is what is so good. With its normal alcohol level of 13 or 13.5% [2003s are sometimes over 14%], it is a balanced vintage," explained de Villiane.
From there, it was on to the modern laboratory of Maison Joseph Drouhin on the fringe of Beaune. Wines for this tasting came from virtually every village of the Côte de Nuits. Robert Drouhin, the firm's patriarch, tempered his enthusiasm for the 2004 reds with a reminder that the wines "are to be drunk young. Look for elegance, not extraction."
Véronique Drouhin, Robert's daughter who lives in
The balance so evident in the 2004 reds didn't come without drama. A wet January, a dry and cold February, a heat wave in March, cool April, hot May and June, a cool July followed by hail and an attack of oidium, it was all there, and by the end of August, growers were despairing. As happens so often, a hot, dry September saved the day. Growers who waited to pick their Pinot Noir until the end of September or even the beginning of October were rewarded with what Jacques Lardière, technical director of Louis Jadot, calls wines "characterized by great aromas, very Pinot Noir. It is a vintage that displays great tenderness."
Should you buy the 2004 red Burgundies? Yes, for the pleasure they will bring to your dining table. De Villaine voices the regret that "collectors aren't interested in this sort of vintage. To my mind, it shows they don't understand the cultural implications of a great wine. They are missing out on the pleasure you can get from an agreeable vintage."
I concur. Before you broach the 2002s, 2003s or 2005s, there will be two vintages that will vie for being the first to enjoy: the intensely fruity 2001 and now the 2004. Of the two, I prefer 2004. That's because when you drink these wines, you will savor the essence of Pinot Noir from