Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Chablis Premier Cru Vaucoupin Gilbert Picq et ses Fils, 1999

If you're looking for good value in white Burgundy, Chablis is a good place to start. Chablis is not actually in what is considered Burgundy proper but an area about halfway between Paris and Beaune. The climate is generally rather cool, producing wines with a brisk acidity, a quality that matches well with the traditional mineral flintiness that derives from the limestone soil. Generally, Chablis wines age very well (I have some from 1981 and 1982 that are still drinking beautifully), but unfortunately Picq's wines have been affected by the puzzling premature oxidation that plagued a good number of white Burgundies from 1995 to 2000. Some writers have theorized that it was caused by a solution used during this period to sterilize corks.

The Picq family have had small vineyards in Chablis for generations. Gilbert, who started his domaine in 1976, is now retired and has handed over operations to his sons, Didier (who runs the cellar) and Pascal (who tends the vineyards). Daughter, Marilyn, runs sales and marketing. At their best, Picq wines are very, very good with clean, clear lines, focused flavors and traditional power. No new oak is used. My favorite is the Vieilles Vignes, but I also like this Premier Cru Vaucoupin, which is loaded with the mineral flintiness that defines Chablis. Vaucoupin is located on the right side of the Serein River (where all the Grand Crus are located), an area known for bigger, more powerful wines.

A full gold color, the 1999 Vaucoupin comes at you with strong flinty, citrus scents--powerful almost to the point of bitterness. This is not for someone accustomed to oaky New World Chardonnay. In the mouth, it's thick and viscous, again with some mineral bitterness but also lots of concentrated fruit. On the one hand, the wine needs more time to soften; on the other hand, the premature oxidation is getting to it so it needs to be drunk. The power on the mid-palate and finish are remarkable.

Generally with Picq wines, the premature oxidation comes on rather quickly about age nine and progresses quickly. I need to hurry through my 1999s because I have already been disappointed by so many 1996s and 1997s. It's a shame because otherwise these wines have the acidity and stuffing to grow for decades. And since there's considerable bottle variation in regard to the oxidation, I've had an opportunity to experience how these wines are supposed to taste. Whether this problem occurred in Picq wines since 2000, I can't say.

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