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A lovely “off-vintage” Burgundy

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“Off-vintage” wines can surprise you. Back when I was first exploring the wine world, I bought a lot of wines from good producers in vintages that were less than stellar, at least according to the vintage charts. Partly it was a matter of economics, as such vintages provided an opportunity to sample wines from producers that were simply too expensive in the more highly-regarded years. Plus the critics were always going on about how “there are no great wines, only great bottles”, and “vintage charts don’t matter”, etc. etc. So as I was exploring and buying wines from the great wine regions (mainly of France), I occasionally bought wines from vintages like Bordeaux 1979, 1980, 1981, even 1984; Rhone 1980 and 1981; red Burgundy 1979, 1980, 1982. Not all of these were really considered “off vintages” back in the day, but one look at today’s vintage charts would certainly make one think so.

One of those vintages was red Burgundy, 1986. Jancis Robinson says, “A very tricky year of rain and rot. Careful growers avoided the dilution but not a year to seek out.” On Parker’s vintage chart, the red Cote du Nuits from 1986 gets a dismal 65 point score, third worst in the decade behind 1981 (50) and 1984 (not even rated but presumably very low). 23 years later, one would certainly expect most 1986 red Burgundies to be either dead, or just plain lousy. So I opened my last bottle of 1986 Gevrey Chambertin, Les Cazetiers, Serafin, with modest expectations, at best. But then again, off-vintage wines can surprise you. This one did.

Good deep color, rather garnet-toned but no browning. The nose is clean and full of savory herbs, open and ready for business. No real primary fruit, but echos of cherries are present; now it’s all secondary scents of forest floor, with something exotic like Asian spice or black cardamom. Silky texture with surprisingly good fruit, and plenty of acid but not at all screechy or overly tart. Medium bodied and only moderate depth and length, but a delicious, wonderfully balanced wine of considerable interest and complexity. No, it’s not a profound or “great” Burgundy, but an absolutely delicious and enjoyable wine that is true to its origins and a great complement to a simple, everyday meal of chicken braised with carrots, onions, peas and rice. Find this wine

One of those “I’m not sure why I bought it, but I’m glad I did” wines. $33 on release.

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