One might think that doing an ’82 tasting before a big auction in Hong Kong would be enough, but this is Acker Merrall, and I have perfected the art of drinking all the profits lol. While this was a week where I fell in love with Bordeaux all over again, Burgundy would not let me forget that I loved her, too. If there’s one thing that I this past week in Hong Kong reminded me, it’s that I have so much love to give.

Chateau de la Tour

And Burgundy gave back to Hong Kong and me with two special evenings hosted by two special proprietors, Francois Labet of Chateau de la Tour in Clos Vougeot, and Vicomte Louis-Michel Liger-Belair, whose Domaine shares the same name in Vosne Romanee. The first evening was one of Chateau de La Tour, a property whose history dates back to 1198, a property which has only had three owners over 800+ years, including the Labet family, whose history dates back to 1890.

Proprietor Francois Labet

We started with some golden oldies, although my 1976 Chateau de La Tour Clos Vougeot was a bit corked. It came across extra earthy and dry accordingly, although 1976 can be like that anyway. Its palate was less corked, but very menthol-y and dry, lean and austere with green fruit flavors and sour citrus. 1976 is a vintage that even at its best will last only thirty minutes in the glass usually, and the fact that this was corked didn’t help or allow any of its positive qualities to shine that brightly (87A).

We were back in safer territory with an excellent 1978 Chateau de La Tour Clos Vougeot. This had much deeper fruit and was very fragrant, showing off lots of purple musk. It had a nice body with a dry, cedary finish, and taut purple fruit with light citrus kisses. Earth and beef satay flavors combined with hay and straw to show both fresh yet browning, mature flavors. This was a complicated wine (93).

The 1979 Chateau de La Tour Clos Vougeot was in a great spot and stole the spotlight from the usually stronger 1978. It had a sweet nose full of kirsch. I just loved its forward, sexy nose, which had just enough hints of autumn and broth to make the conversation deeper and even more interesting. Boysenberry flavors were super tasty, and this was officially another secretly good red from 1979. There was some ‘pudding gooding’ to its great cherry fruit, and I couldn’t help but drink this wine to the last drop, as well as seconds. There is probably no need to defer gratification for this wine much longer, unless out of magnum (95).

We went from one classic to another with the 1985 Chateau de La Tour Clos Vougeot. This was classic in every sense of the word. Its fruit was pure and clean red with great musk and spice. Oil, blueberry and black cherry joined the nose and fit right in. The palate was delicious, showing off all the positive qualities of 1985. It was full-bodied and long with nice sweetness and earth, everything in balance. This was ready to drink and also ready to age some more (95+).

The 1986 Chateau de La Tour Clos Vougeot was the last, non Vieilles Vignes wine that we would have on this evening. While I have had some thrilling 1986s, this wasn’t one of them. The nose was pleasant- brothy, citrusy and smoky, with nice vitamins and red fruit. The palate, however, showed the mean side of 1986. It was dry and hard, medium-bodied and lacking fruit. Its palate was all acid and rust. Every at-bat can’t be a home run (88).

Next up was our first Vieilles Vignes, and the first one that the estate ever produced, the 1987 Chateau de La Tour Clos Vougeot Vieilles Vignes. There was an immediate, noticeable difference in the volume and concentration here. 1987 is about as low on the totem pole that a red Burgundy vintage can be, but this wine didn’t care what vintage it was from. It did need time in the glass to really show its stuff. At first, green oak dominated, but olives and coffee replaced the wood, and it became more and more impressive, especially considering the vintage (93).

The next flight was all ‘V.V.’ beginning with the 1996 Chateau de La Tour Clos Vougeot Vieilles Vignes. The V.V. style really stood out again; its volume was huge, and its texture bigger than Burgundy life. Its fruit was thick, pungent and soupy, and while big, it was still tight and clean. Fuller than most ’96s, the acid seemed less than usual and the milk more. It kept gaining in the glass, although it still came across abit awkwardly in a pre-teen way (92+).

The 1997 Chateau de La Tour Clos Vougeot Vieilles Vignes was in a great spot, with lots of musk and vitamins, including extra C. It was zippy and citrusy, both not easy to achieve in 1997, along with great verve. This was one of the better 1997s that I can remember, better than most, in fact. It was rich, saucy and tasty, ‘great!’ as I wrote. It occurred to me then that this cuvee seemed to make the lesser years sing louder than normally, but the flip side of that coin was that the better vintages needed more time than usual. Either way you skin it, impressive sums it up (94).

The 1999 Chateau de La Tour Clos Vougeot Vieilles Vignes had a deep nose, with adolescent banana peel and date skin in its shy nose, particularly for 1999. Its finish was rich, decadent and strong in the mouth, but the fruit was shy city. While thick, it was shut down and might need another decade more before it starts to say hello (94+).

The final flight begun with a 2007 Chateau de La Tour Clos Vougeot Vieilles Vignes. ‘2007 delivers again, ‘ I wrote. I have been a big fan of this vintage as far as it being one for early drinking and enjoyment. Floozy isn’t the right word, but party girl is. Forward and sexy, the 2007 showed me skin and kept me in refill mode, although it did seem a little more confused after getting to know the 2008 and 2009 that followed (92).

The 2008 Chateau de La Tour Clos Vougeot Vieilles Vignes was cedary and dry, austere and reserved but serious like ’08s can be. There was definitely more finish than fruit in this edgy wine, but it kept gaining in the glass and getting more interesting. We really didn’t have enough time to get to know it well enough (93+).

The same could be said for the 2009 Chateau de La TourClos Vougeot Vieilles Vignes. The ’09 was a tight baby, so young and dry but with some baked goodness in there. It was clearly the best of the three vintages; it felt wealthy but it wasn’t showing it yet (94+).

This was an impressive evening of Clos Vougeot with its finest and most significant producer. The standard cuvee showed wonderfully in vintages like 1979 and ’85, and the Vieilles Vignes cuvee is not even ready to show yet in most vintages. Even 1987 felt on the way up, which is quite impressive! The V.V. is built for the long haul, and a very special and unique wine in Burgundy. Almost every V.V. felt like it needed time to develop, and that it would get better, hence all the pluses. I look forward to revisiting this cuvee many times in the future.

Wednesday night and Thursday lunch saw us back in Bordeaux featuring Chateau Latour, which will be covered in the next article, but Thursday had us back in Burgundy featuring the wines of one of its shining stars, Liger-Belair. It was a magical evening of twelve magnificent wines from eight vineyards, four vintages and one very talented winemaker.

Vicomte Louis-Michel Liger-Belair

We began with a pair of Clos du Chateau, the estate property of the Domaine. The 2006 Liger-Belair Vosne Romanee Clos du Chateau had wonderful perfume, with soft, red cherry fruit, great spice and dust. Its nose put me at ease, as if I was back in familiar territory. The palate had delicate fruit that was wintry fresh yet warm and inviting with its charming personality. 2006s aren’t exactly giving with their fruit just yet, and the good ones have this crispness to them that this did. Strawberry and garden goodness entered stage left, but its spice is what lingered in haunting fashion(92).

In the Cellar

The 2009 Liger-Belair Vosne Romanee Clos du Chateau was the first of what would be many impressive 2009s on this night. The increased depth and volume to the fruit was apparent at first sniff, as was its power, acidity and overall breed. The palate was still a touch shy but big and firm at the same time, and while the finish had a touch of bitters and unresolved tannins, I had all the confidence I needed that they would work it out in time (94).

The Domaine

A 2009 Liger-Belair Vosne Romanee Colombiere was corked, too much so to pick up many aromas, but the palate wasn’t as badly affected. If you could block out the corked quality, the palate was tasty and foresty, with deep purple and rich fruit, and ‘great weight’ as one observed (93A).

We took a left turn and went to the other side of the tracks with a 2006 Liger-Belair Nuits St. Georges Aux Cras. Its nose was much earthier, almost rubbery at first, clearly a different terroir. I always feel like I’m slumming it in a back alley of Burgundy when drinking Nuits St. Georges, no offense meant. I think we all know that slumming it can serve its purposes lol. Cedar and tannins jumped out of its nose and not much more, but its palate was more impressive than I expected, delivering a thick and long mouthful. Black fruits, vitamins and a ‘hint of licorice’ were all present in this big and beefy red. Hong Kong’s version of the Old Dirty Bastard was loving it. It was the terroir, of course (93).

The 2007 Liger-Belair Vosne Romanee Les Suchots seduced me as ’07s do. There was great perfume and spice here, with sweet and musky decadent fruit. The palate was soft, tender and delicate with great spice. There was so much finesse in all of Louis-Michel’s wines that they struck me as delicacies. This was sexy, silky and superb wine (94).

The 2008 Liger-Belair Vosne Romanee Les Brulees was the rarest wine served, as the Domaine only makes one barrel, only in magnums, and the wine isn’t commercially released. It had a powerful nose that was rich and nutty, full of milk and the thistle. It had great underbrush qualities along with a mahogany spice. The palate was full yet reticent, but already deep and possessing a wealth of fruit for 2008. Full-bodied with a ‘nice minerality, ‘ there was a pinch of citrus to add just the right drop of complexity to this outstanding wine (95M).

A pair of queens was next, starting with the 2006 Liger-Belair Vosne Romanee Aux Reignots. I was wondering why the Reignots would be served after vineyards such as Suchots and Brulees, but after this flight, there weren’t any lingering questions. The 2006’s nose was so pure, impressive with its cedar and breed. There was this kiss of that NSG rubber again, but its red fruit overcame in a so fresh and so clean clean way. The palate also had great spice and nice cedar with a long and expressive finish. Gil observed, ‘that popcorn Coche nose’ (94).

The 2009 Liger-Belair Vosne Romanee Aux Reignots had ‘the sulfur ester of bubblegum and banana leaf’ per Mr. Vegas. I’m not sure I even know what that means, but I do know that this wine blew me away. It was so powerful and rich. Heady, big and brawny but fast and agile at the same time, the 2009 Reignots reeked of royalty more than anything else. Its fruit covered the whole spectrum, including purple, boysenberry and black cherry. This is about as impressed as I have ever been from anything Premier Cru, not counting Henri Jayer. Did I mention that Louis-Michel learned under the master himself (96)?

Louis-Michel’s Echezeaux is one of this historic vineyard’s newest stars, and it just keeps getting better and better with bottle age, even though there aren’t any that old in the first place. The 2007 Liger-Belair Echezeaux was tasty, big, rich, long and zippy for ’07, with lots of structure. There was black forest fruit with a touch of tropical Bazooka goodness. This was a big and brawny 2007, a typical but I wasn’t complaining. Its impressive structure and citrus twists were all good in this hood (94+).

The 2009 Liger-Belair Echezeaux was even better, as it should be. Its dense, sweet fruit was balanced by its structure and finish. Fruit and acidity were all in harmony, and the signature style of the Domaine was on full display, with added depth from the terroir. There was great style to this great red (96).

There was only one place to go from here, and that was La Romanee, the vineyard that looks down over Romanee-Conti. The 2006 Liger-Belair La Romanee still had the clean ’06 personality but with obviously more weight than the usual ’06. While fresh and crisp, there was a meatiness here that blended well into oily, rich red cherry fruit. This was a decadent, creamy and lush wine that continued to uncoil well after me (96+).

It is difficult for a young wine to get me up in what I call ‘rare air’ territory, ie 97+, but the 2009 Liger-Belair La Romanee did just that. ‘Every 2009 is great, ‘ someone commented, but the 2009 La Romanee was beyond great. Deep and powerful seemed inadequate to describe the depths of its nose, as did rich and decadent. This was ripe yet tense, with leather and smokehouse nuances. It was an ass-smacking great nose; that felt more adequate lol. The palate was like a dense forest of flesh, bramble and cedar, a veritable wonderland in which immersion seemed inviting and inevitable. The wine made time stand still; I felt paralyzed by its greatness, yet I was happy to be so. Speaking of so, ‘so rich, so concentrated, so incredible’ summed up my notes. ‘Hell yeah’ would be another way to put it (98).

There are only a handful of people who emerge in Burgundy every generation to become one of the true greats, and Louis-Michel is one of them. Any bottle of his, any time, count me in.

In Vino Veritas,
JK

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