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Hospices de Beaune – 154th Auction of Wines – Tasting

Sunday, November 16th, 2014 will mark the 154th auction of the wines from the Hospices de Beaune, one of the longest extant and certainly the most prestigious of wine charity events in the world.  The Hospices, or Hospital, in Beaune has been the beneficiary of the sale of wines from donated parcels of vineyards since its original endowment in 1443 by Nicolas Rolin, Chancellor of the Duchy of Burgundy, and his wife Guigone de Salins.  Today, the auction sales serve to benefit not only the upkeep of the original L’Hotel Dieu (which continued in use as a hospital until the early1960s, now a museum), but also to benefit and finance the new, modern hospital in the town of Beaune,  This post will not attempt to recall the history of the Hospices or the origins of the many cuvees offered at auction on Sunday.  For a wealth of information on the Hospices, its functioning, the history, the various blends or cuvees, its viticulture and winemaking, and the details of the sales, visit the website http://www.hospices-de-beaune.com/index.php/hospicesdebeaune.

This post will offer the author’s opinions of the wines, tasted on Friday morning, November 14th, at the official professional tasting offered at the new cuverie of the Hospices de Beaune Domaine Viticole.  Incidentally, the 2014 wines will be the last vintage of the current regisseur, Roland Masse, and in 2015 the first woman winemaker, Ludovine Griveau, will take over.

THE 2014 VINTAGE – 534 PIECES OFFERED

Despite the hailstorm in June which devastated many of the Hospices’ vineyards in Beaune, Pommard, Volnay, and Meursault, the 2014 Auction will present 534 barrels for sale in the 2014 vintage.  Other vineyards elsewhere returned healthy, even copious crops.  So 2014 is a return to more normal , average yields in Burgundy, and represents an increase in the size of the auction lots over the 2012 and 2013 vintages.  Still, 534 barrels from 60 hectares of vineyards, at 228 liters per barrel only represents a yield of about 20 hectoliters per hectare, a miserly result from nature’s vagaries in 2014.

I have covered the 2014 harvest and beginning of vinifications in other posts, but the tasting of the Hospice de Beaune cuvees on Friday was my first extensive tasting of wines from the 2014 vintage.  Keep in mind that most of the cuvees tasted were still in the process of secondary, malolactic fermentations, a difficult period to judge the wines’ potential.  But nonetheless, these professional tastings allow potential buyers at the auction, as well as domaine owners. negociants,  restaurateurs, and amateurs du vin, the possibility to evaluate the wines.  Historically, these official tastings mark the first evaluations of a new vintage, even with the wines in a very raw state.  I have been tasting new wines in Burgundy for over 25 years, often at various stages of the wines’ evolution, and while evaluating wines in such a state of unfinished youth can be difficult, it is not impossible to get an appreciation of a wine’s flavors, concentration, depth, texture, and balance.  What follows are my opinions of the wines at this early stage of their development.

I arrived at the Hospices de Beaune cuverie at 8:45am, to find nearly 200 people already waiting for and beginning admission to the tasting.  The lines of tasters were excited by the vintage’s strong potential, and the orderly crowd awaited their turn to enter the caves, and once inside, wound their way snake-like through the rows of barrels.  The entire process of tasting the 32 cuvees of red wines, followed by the 14 offerings of whites, took about two hours.  The caves were a bit crowded, but the organizers’ policy of only allowing 600 people in the large cellars at any one time meant that the lines proceeded in a manner that allowed all the tasters time to taste all the wines, take notes if they wished, and chat amiably about their impressions.

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Hospices de Beaune tasters winding their way through the cellars. Unrushed, generous, and complete, the organizers did a superb job of showing the many different cuvees.

As usual in Burgundy, the reds were all tasted before the whites.  I have no idea how many people will be tasting over the four tasting periods (morning and afternoon sessions on both Friday and Saturday), but the amount of wine poured out as samples must be substantial.  Hopefully the generosity of the Hospices will be matched by the generosity of the bidders at the auction Sunday afternoon!

THE WINES – 2014 – A VERY FINE VINTAGE

As a very general observation, somewhat sweeping and contradicted in many individual instances, I found the red wines to be better than the whites.  Most of the reds offered a tremendous depth of fruit, lush, velvety textures, and a beautiful yet powerful balance between fruit, acidity, tannin, and oak.  I was astounded that of all the reds sampled, only a few were marked by toasty oak, and all the wines were in new oak barrels.  Most showed a depth of concentration that stood up to the new oak barrels, which I believe bodes well for the continued elevage of the wines after their sale at auction.  The whites, many still cloudy from the tumultuous primary fermentations and some slightly petillant from the onset of malolactic, struck me as somewhat flat on my palate, rich and fat in ripeness, but many lacking some grip, firm, fresh acidity, and real depth of concentration.  But these generalisations will be contradicted by some of the specific notes below.

RED WINES

Santenay Christine Friedberg – Bright focused red fruits tightly wound around a core of bright tart acidity.  Malo evident.  Lushly textured, even velvety.  Good length and depth.  Quite fine.

Pernand-Vergelesses 1er Cru Rameau-Lamarosse – Spicy cinnamon notes with dark cherry cobbler elements.  Richer and longer than the Santenay, showing a kiss of toasty oak to finish.  Very good.

Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru Fouquerand – Griotte cherry and cassis flavors, quite tart, linear and focused, with firm tannins.  A bit tight and drying in the finish.  Decent.

Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru Arthur Girard – A little gas and petillance. Gamey and bloody notes, a strong mineral element with dark red fruits.  Rather deep and concentrated.  Very fine but a bit brooding.

Savigny-les-Beaune Les Vergelesses 1er Cru Forneret – Meaty aromas with new toasty oak very evident.  Bright tart red currant fruits. Lush with a lovely silky texture.  Oak resolving in the finish.  Very good plus.

Monthelie Les Duresses 1er Cru Lebelin – Bright, tight, focused red fruits, quite tart, with malolactic evident.  Finishes a bit green, lean, and slightly vegetal. Ok but not a favorite.

Auxey-Duresses Les Duresses 1er Cru Boillot – Tightly wound red tart fruits around a racy acidity and fine tannic structure.  Nice smooth texture, but restrained and somewhat short to finish.  Decent.

Beaune 1er Cru Cyrot-Chaudron – Pronounced toasty new oak.  Roasted cherry cobbler flavors.  Not quite enough depth and concentration to support the new oak. Good but oaky.

Beaune 1er Cru Maurice Drouhin – Deep intense red fruits of sour cherry and cassis.  Quite rich and deep, suave velvety texture.  Lovely integrated oak finish.  Balanced, nicely tuned.  Very good.

Beaune 1er Cru Hugues et Louis Betault – Petillant.  Bright tight acidity showing a bit lean in fruit.  Firmly tannic.  Not for hedonists.

Beaune 1er Cru Brunet – Tight, closed and tannic.  Lacks depth of fruit, even a bit hard.  Not for me.

Beaune Greves 1er Cru Pierre Floquet – Complex aromatics with clove and cinnamon spices.  Lushly textured, full red fruits of cassis and raspberry.  Hints of iodine minerality.  Long fresh finish.  Very good.

Beaune 1er Cru Clos des Avaux – Closed subdued nose.  Petillant entry, a bit of gas and showing new toasty oak.  Firmly tannic.  Fruits masked by new oak elements.  Closed and ungiving at the moment.

Beaune 1er Cru Rousseau-Deslandes – Toasty oak and grilled cherry fruits.  Lush rich texture but flavors and finish dominated by oaky toastiness.  Not for me.

Beaune 1er Cru Dames Hospitalieres – Complex aromatics of spice and soft red fraises des bois (wild strawberries).  Soft and accessible, a fine drink, if perhaps a bit simple and one-dimensional.  Good.

Beaune 1er Cru Guigone de Salins – Meaty, gamey, butcher shop nose.  Lush velvety texture, buoyed by a kiss of new oak.  Long pleasant finish but a bit marked by oak.  Good.

Beaune 1er Cru Nicolas Rolin – Subdued quiet nose.  Focused bright, tight and tart red fruits, with an emerging gaminess mid-palate.  Finishes firm but not hard. Should age nicely.  Very good.

Volnay 1er Cru General Muteau – Malo evident with pronounced petillance and gassy elements.  A bit light with soft red fruits.  Seems elegant and stylish, but maybe lacking a bit of depth?  Good.

Volnay 1er Cru Blondeau – Quite a bit of gas, even a bit reductive. Silky fine texture with sour cherry fruits.  Subtle and suave to end.  Quite fine.

Volnay Santenots 1er Cru Jehan de Massol – Strawberry and soft cherry fruits.  Lush palate, smooth texture, and excellent tannic balance.  Delightful to taste.  Very well done.

Volnay Santenots 1er Cru Gauvain – Spicy red fruits. A bit firmer but also more dense than the Santenots above.  Full and quite concentrated red fruits give way to a long complex finish.  Very good to excellent.

Pommard Suzanne Chaudron – Tight closed nose.  Firmly tannic, not at all open.  Finishes tannic, lean, even mean.  Not for me.

Pommard Raymond Cyrot – Meaty and dense.  Rich full red fruits of cherry and cassis with a background of toasty oak.  The finish is dominated by the new oak.  Decent but oaky.

Pommard Billardet – Red licorice and tart sour cherry fruits in the nose.  Petillant and gassy.  Hard to evaluate through the malolactic notes.  A bit tart, firm, and tannic to finish.  Should be ok.

Pommard 1er Cru Dames de la Charite – A bit of gas and reduction in the nose and entry.  Dark cherry, deep, dense, and a bit brooding.  Very masculine and concentrated.  Very good to excellent.

Pommard Epenots 1er Cru Dom Goblet – Ripe cherry, red berry fruits.  Suave and velvety texture.  Lovely balance of soft tart cherry fruits, lightly oaky, finishing elegant and stylish.  A feminine counterpart to the powerful Dames de la Charite cuvee.  Very good to excellent.

Corton Grand Cru Charlotte Dumay – Pure refined nose of dark red fruits of dark cherry and cassis.  Lovely sweet mid-palate with spices of cloves and cinnamon in the background.  Excellent balance and depth.  Should be superb.

Corton Grand Cru Docteur Peste – Spicy clove cinnamon nose but darker and a bit more brooding in fruit than the Charlotte Dumay.  Deeper, firmer tannins give a slightly drying tone to the finish.  But the sheer depth and power should overcome in the end.  Excellent.

Corton Grand Cru Clos du Roi Baronne du Bay – Lovely red fruits of currant and strawberry give way to a soft, elegant, and refined texture.  Quite drinkable today, nicely supported by new oak tones.  Very good to excellent.

Echezeaux Grand Cru Jean-Luc Bissey – Dark black fruits, dense and brooding.  Tart blackberries and black currants.  Deep, intensely concentrated, and very long to finish. Superb.

Clos de la Roche Grand Cru Cyrot-Chaudron / Georges Kritter – Quiet, closed nose.  Dense and firmly tannic entry.  Blackberry and myrtille notes but also brooding, gamey and sauvage.  Perhaps even a bit too dense, almost over-extracted.  Should be excellent.

Mazis Chambertin Grand Cru Madeleine Collignon – Dark and brooding black fruits with a hint of reduction.  Lush, silky suave texture underneath.  Really refined and elegant with sheer weight and power.  Hints of raw meat, licorice, clove and cinnamon spices.  Long and luscious.  Superb.

WHITE WINES

Saint Romain Joseph Menault – From 600 liter tonneaux.  Citrus notes of lemon, lime, and pink grapefruit.  Chalky wet stone minerality, hints of malolactic petillance.  Precise and focused, with a crisp clean finish.  Very fine.

Pouilly-Fuisse Francoise Poisard – From 450 liter barrel.  Creamy and vanilla notes with a whiff of stony minerality.  Mildly citrus with peachy stone fruits.  A little diffuse, and perhaps a bit short.  Good.

Beaune 1er Cru Les Montrevenots Suzanne et Raymond – Lemon meringue, lovely creamy texture, delightful chardonnay fruit flavors kissed by new oak.  Refined and elegant.  Very good.

Meursault Loppin – Light citrus notes, light texture. Undistinguished, lacking depth and concentration.  Not to my liking.

Meursault Goureau – Creamy texture but a bit light and innocuous.  Disappointing depth and concentration.

Meursault Poruzots 1er Cru Jehan Humblot – Tangy citrus notes with a whiff of new oak.  Petillant, but lacks real depth and grip.  Light and dominated by a finish of new oak.  Acceptable.

Meursault Genevrieres 1er Cru Baudot – Closed reluctant nose.  Soft and a bit flabby in texture, with creamy vanilla flavors.  Light lemon chiffon.  Disappointing.

Meursault Genevrieres 1er Cru Philippe le Bon –  Bright focused minerality of wet hot stones.  Lushly textured, a bit diffuse and loose.  Lacks grip and depth.  Almost soft.  Acceptable.

Meursault Charmes 1er Cru de Bahezre de Lanlay – Intense tangy nose of citrus and wet stones minerality.  But short and a bit fat in the mouth.  Builds a bit mid-palate and finishes fairly long and deep.  Good.

Meursault Charmes 1er Cru Albert Grivault – Tangy citrus notes of lemon and kaffir lime.  Bright, fresh, intense depth of fruit.  Real Meursault, almost oily in texture.  Very fine depth and a long crisp, tangy finish.  Very good to excellent.

Corton Vergennes Grand Cru Paul Chanson – Dense and focused mineral and citrus notes.  Focused, rich, and deep at the same time.  Creamy mid-palate shows very fine depth of concentration.  Fine length in the finish.  Very good to excellent.

Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru Roi Soleil – A bit oaky.  Creamier style than above, a bit diffuse.  Lacks precision and concentration.  Ok.

Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru Francois de Salins – Citrus with white flowers and bright focused minerality.  Bright, tight, focused citrus acidity with minerality adding precision and persisitence.  Racy and long.  Excellent to superb.

Batard Montrachet Grand Cru Dames de Flandres – Creamy nose a bit closed, showing vanilla and a bit of honey.  Rich entry of lemon and wild-flower honey.  A bit of tart malic acidity gives fine length and structured depth.  Excellent.

PROSPECTS FOR THE AUCTION – 2014 HOSPICES DE BEAUNE

The evolution of prices over the last years, with continued increases multiplied by short vintages, is expected to continue with the 2014 vintage Hospices de Beaune auction.  A very fine vintage of reasonable quantities, combined with increasing worldwide appreciation and demand for Burgundy wines, is sure to bring record setting returns from the auction for the benefit of the Hospices de Beaune’s operations.

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