Thursday, May 4, 2017

"Oxo-Reductive": An emergent Burgundian white wine style*

I am in the midst of a series on white wine styles and most recently wrote on barrel-fermented and -aged white wines. The process I described therein mapped tightly to the process described on the Burgundy Wines website. I also wrote (earlier) on reductive winemaking, some aspects of which Jancis Robinson associated with Burgundian whites in a 2015 article. Now Jon Bonne has written an article (post-Premox: A Quiet Revolution in the Côte de Beaune, Wine&Spirits, April 18, 2017) which pushes the Burgundy white wine envelope out beyond the boundaries established by Jancis to a new style that I am referring to as "Oxo-Reductive."

Both Jancis and Jon point to the premox issue as the engine driving the change in Burgundy. Prior to the recognition of a problem, "'buttery,' 'rich,' and even 'toasty' used to be the terms of approbation for these sort of wines, but no longer." Instead, these wines were now characterized by (Jancis):
  • High levels of acidity
  • No trace of the toastiness of obvious oak
  • Leanness on the palate
  • The tell-tale flinty smell of recently struck matches.
This new style was driven, according to Jancis, by work done in the cellar. In her words, "it is only very rarely shaped by what goes on in the vineyard." The cellar activities that she identified were as follows:
  • Minimize the amount of new oak influence
  • Eschew stirring of lees in the barrel (minimize O₂ exposure)
  • Minimize racking (minimize O₂ exposure)
  • Complete aging in tanks (process invented by Roulot and identified in the article as being utilized by Roulot and Leflaive)
  • Top up space left by evaporation with contents of a particularly reductive one
  • Add a bit more SO₂ at bottling
This process is not fully reductive but it is stingier with O₂ than the full barrel-aging process described in my prior post.

Raj Parr and Jean-Marc Roulot during our 2014 visit
to Domaine Guy Roulot
Jon characterized the 1990s Burgundies as "wines that were riper, fuller, and more enjoyable when young." And the most reputable appellations went along for the ride: "Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet, and Meursault gravitated towards the richer, early drinking style gaining favor elsewhere, especially California."

When the Burgundian winemakers realized that they had a problem on their hands, they went back and took stock of every aspect of the winemaking process. To the extent that they could not identify a single causative factor for premox, they tightened all aspects of their winemaking. In Jon's words, "Where once the goal was richness and opulence, the new plan was to prepare wines for a long and prosperous life -- namely by making them as bulletproof as possible to oxidation."

Where Jancis identified "reductive-associated" winemaking as the solution pursued by the winemakers, Jon saw it as extending beyond the cellar to include grape growing and handling. He identified a number of farming changes that have taken place but did not, to my satisfaction, directly link these to the fight against premox. Changes like movement to biodynamic farming, yield reduction, picking earlier, and massal selection, in the words of Dominique Lafon, contributed to greater clarity and length in the wines.

Jon concedes that the "greatest revolution has come in the cellar." They are more or less in agreement on the winemaking activities -- except where he mentions leaving the wines in barrel longer (15 months or more) -- but it is in the area of grape and juice handling, an area unexplored by Jancis, where we see the greatest departure. Jon has noted the following handling initiatives:
  • The pressing of the grapes is less delicate (in some cases the grapes are lightly crushed)
  • The resurgence of upright mechanical presses (to the detriment of the pneumatic presses)
    • These presses tend to expose the grapes to air and O₂
  • Oxidation that occurs at pressing is allowed to continue through the next day
    • Juice browning.
As described to Jon by one of the winemakers, he wants to oxidize at the must stage so that the substrates do not make it into the wine.

Except for scope and scale, this is exactly the process that I described in my post on hyperoxidation. Thus, given the mix of oxygen exposure and the reductive tendencies described in these two articles, I will refer to this emergent white Burgundy style as "Oxo-Reductive."

*Author's Note: I had originally referred to this style as Hyperoxo-Reductive. After giving it some thought overnight, I have come to the conclusion that the name prefix "hyper" is not warranted due to a lack of direct infusion of O₂ into the juice. Based on that thinking, I have modified the name to Oxo-Reductive.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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