A prfile of Bouchard plus tasting of 20 wines by Bill Nanson
Bouchard can trace their origin back to 1731, when Michel and his son Joseph Bouchard, who started as cloth merchants, established a wine merchant business in Beaune. The Bouchards purchased their first vineyard in Volnay from the family Carnot in 1731, and today still produce an Ancienne Cuvée Carnot.
In 1791 when France’s revolutionary government started to sell confiscated properties, the Bouchards were able to buy their now famous Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus in the Beaune 1er Cru of Grèves, plus other parcels in Les Teurons, Les Avaux, Clos de la Mousse and Marconnets. Then followed the purchase of their current home, the Château de Beaune in 1810.
If you consult any publication from the late 1980’s to the mid 1990’s BP&F are usually described as producers that ‘could do better’ or are ‘less interesting’ or even ‘mediocre’. In 1995, however, the company moved from the 9th generation of Bouchard control to the Henriot family from Champagne. Publications have since talked about ‘big improvements’ or from ‘strength to strength’ or of a ‘quality boost’.
So what is the current position? It is already well documented that major investement in the vineyards and wine production areas followed the acquisition by Henriot so we won’t spend any time on this subject. Today BP&F are a major player with extensive vineyard holdings to augment their négociant wines; 130 hectares in total, 12 in Grand Cru vineyards, 74 in the 1er Crus, and are still adding to their ‘collection’. If we restrict ourselves purely to the Côte d’Or, then approximately one third of the wines which are produced come from their own vineyards, the rest come from grapes (rather than part finished wine) purchased from growers with whom BP&F have long-term contracts. The split is roughly 60% of production for red wine and 40% for the whites. Depending on the cru, the wines will stay up to 18 months in oak barrels. BP&F have spent a lot of time tailoring the barrel type to the specific cru – a tough assignment when you consider approximately 80 Crus are produced each vintage.
I was fortunate enough to visit the Château de Beaune in December 2002 with Isabelle Parisot of BP&F as my guide. The Château is an amazing place, built in the 15th century to house the French troops and keep them safe from the the Burgundians who were (of course!) allied to England – not France. The walls are up to seven metres thick so even in summer the temperature is perfect for storing wine.
So what about the wines? Well, one caveat is that the wines were tasted at cellar temperature (~15°C) so not surprisingly many of the reds showed reticent aromatics. Also due to cellar lighting it was not possible to say exactly the colour, only how dense the colour was.
A consistent theme could be seen with these wines. Whilst not fully saturated, they were consistently medium-plus cherry colour with a deep tannic structure. This is brought about by quite a long, cool cuvaison of up to 18 days. Not surprisingly then it is the Grand Cru wines which wear this tannin the best and seem most drinkable today. If you are serious about cellaring your wines the tannins will not be an issue as the fruit quality and concentration is good. In summary I would say good to excellent wines that need cellaring.
2000 Domaine Bouchard Père et Fils, Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Cailles
From the Southern part of NSG. Medium colour. Nose is reserved with some faint vanilla tones. Nicely concentrated fruit on the sweet palate. Medium tannins with quite good acidity. A persistent finish. This is good and quite drinkable already.
1999 Domaine Bouchard Père et Fils, Monthélie
This is a relatively new vineyard for BP&F which was purchased in 1996 from the Domaine Ropiteau. Medium red colour. Understated nose is higher toned. Less fat perhaps then the previous wine but pure medium intensity fruit. Tannins are well represented, but don’t get out of hand. I’d leave this for 2 or 3 years, I think it should be quite good.
1999 Domaine Bouchard Père et Fils, Beaune du Château
No-one has vines in more Beaune 1er Cru sites than BP&F. This Beaune du Château is a blend of up to 15 of these 1er Crus. The aim of the blend is to a certain extent, to iron vintage differences and come up with a consistent style – more of a Bordelais philosophy. The wine itself is medium colour. Much more fruit on rounded nose, mainly high toned. The palate is not so ‘sweet’ as the Monthélie, but the fruit is nicely defined. The tannins are of the large and very furry variety. A very serious wine then, which should be outstanding value vs most 1er Crus. This wine begs to be cellared, I would say a minimum 3 years. It should be very nice.
1999 Domaine Bouchard Père et Fils, Beaune 1er Marconnets
Assembled through successive purchases, BP&F now hold over 2.5 hectares of this vineyard which is almost on the border with Savingy. Medium colour. The nose is restrained, but shows ‘sugary’ red fruits. I find the fruit more intense on the palate than the previous 1er Cru blend, but also the tannins are significantly more prominent. Apparently year in – year out, Marconnets always provides a more tannic wine. A wine to wait for, it’s going to be a good one.
1999 Domaine Bouchard Père et Fils, Beaune 1er Grèves Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus
This vineyard is at the the centre of Les Grèves. Originally gifted to the Carmelite order it took its name at that time. Confiscated from the church during the revoloution, the Bouchards were able to purchase the vineyard when it was subsequently sold by the state in 1791. This is perhaps the most renowned of the BP&F vineyards. The nose is reticent, but sweet black cherry fruit comes through. Whilst the tannin is still evident, this has a much silkier feel than the last wine. Good acidity, a wine with lots of flesh too. The finish lasts well. A really lovely wine.
1999 Domaine Bouchard Père et Fils, Volnay 1er Caillerets Ancienne Cuvée Carnot
Around 4 hectares of this vineyard are owned by BP&F. Medium colour. The lovely Volnay nose is much higher toned than any of the previous wines. Much more oak is obvious on the palate, and coupled with a strong tannic background makes for a wine that is currently a little unbalanced despite pure, persistent fruit and nice acidity. If the oak subdues this will be a lovely wine, not enough balance for today though.
1999 Domaine Bouchard Père et Fils, Le Corton
The vineyard holding of BP&F is extensive in Le Corton. Corton-Charlemagne is made from the top of this vineyard which despite its height is more protected from the elements due to the trees on the top of the hill. From the bottom part of this vineyard comes their red Corton, often a favourite of mine and it seems no change here! The colour is again not too saturated, but the nose is obviously much deeper and sweeter than the previous Volnay. The palate is full and tannic with excellent acidity and lovely intense black fruit. An excellent finish too. First class Corton.
1999 Bouchard Père et Fils, Chambertin Clos de la Bèze
Not a domaine-owned vineyard, but the same supplier of grapes used for many years. Medium colour again. The nose is deep with some barrel toast evident, but not giving much more away. The palate is very round and tannic, but the tannins are finely grained. Lovely depth of concentrated fruit. Actually a very forward and drinkable wine here. Very lovely.
Bouchard usually aim to harvest their whites early rather than late, the aim being to preserve the acidity as much as possible, rather than produce ‘overly rich’ wines. For someone who predominantly drinks riesling when looking for a white wine, I have to say that I came very close to conversion when tasting these. The reason is that these young wines are so pure and tasty, it’s also very easy to see the vineyard differences – rather than the barrel treatment differences which is much more often the case even with very famous names.
2000 Domaine Bouchard Père et Fils, Beaune du Château
An assemblage of 5 different parcels. Pale colour. The nose is very nice, a little citrussy with perhaps the merest whiff of aniseed. Piercing fruit and quite nice acidity. The finish is relatively short, but this is a lovely wine.
2000 Domaine Bouchard Père et Fils, Meursault Les Clous
20% new oak used here, the vineyard is at the top of Meursault, lots of limestone in the vineyard. Again quite pale. Nose is ‘wider’ and a little deeper than the last wine. Fuller palate with a touch of fig fruit on the much longer finish, nice acidity too. Also a lovely wine.
2000 Domaine Bouchard Père et Fils, Meursault 1er Genevrières
40% new oak. Quite pale, the nose being a little more floral. Much more involving palate, more of ‘everything’ with a subtle buttery texture. Persistent finish. Very good.
2000 Domaine Bouchard Père et Fils, Meursault 1er Les Gouttes d’Or
Slightly more new oak than previous wine. Nose is fairly subdued with faint toast. Sweet palate is a little more buttery, perhaps honey too. Not obviously oaky. Nice acidity with reasonable length. A very nice wine.
2000 Domaine Bouchard Père et Fils, Corton-Charlemagne
From the top of Le Corton. Three passes through the vineyard for this wine, each vinified separately then assembled prior to bottling. Faint toast on the nose plus even fainter appley notes. Really intense palate, very full and fruity. Lovely length too. Really super.
2000 Domaine Bouchard Père et Fils, Chevalier-Montrachet
Bouchard are significantly the largest owners in this vineyard with 2 of the 7.3 hectares. The vineyard which is in Puligny lies just above Montrachet itself but is characterised by much stonier and chalkier soil. The wine had a completely different nose to the Corton-Charlemagne, more refined with an amazing depth of high toned fruits. The density in the mouth was very similar to the C-C but to a completely different effect. Wheras the the C-C starts with a bang, the C-M is more sedate but then builds to explosion on the finish. A really fantastic wine.