Seven Rules for When to Open Meursault

Seven Rules for When to Open Meursault

In the world of fine white wine, perhaps no name resonates quite as much as that of Meursault. It's the kind of wine that everyone knows is pretty good. It is a safe choice. And it is often a very good choice. Maybe one day we'll get to a full guide to the intricacies of Meursault -- all the wonderful vineyards (many of which are classified at the village level and strongly over-perform), and the many fine producers.

For now, I'm just going to address one simple question: when is the right time to open up a bottle? 

Map of Meursault

Enjoying Meursault Young:

I drink recently released Meursault all the time. Last week we drank a village Meursault from 1996 and it was beautiful (Boyer-Martenot, the Narvaux bottling).

But I follow a rule on drinking young Meursault that may run counter to the common wisdom. Wine from "classic" vintages where acidities are high -- 2013, 2010, 2008, 2007 -- I find delicious right out of the blocks. Right away you can taste Meursault's refreshing side, and the special flavors that make Meursault special are already present.

Wine from lower-acid vintages -- 2012, 2011, 2009, 2006, 2005 -- seem to work in the opposite way. Many commentators describe these vintages as "restaurant" vintages good for drinking early. But to my palate, these wines are too soft and blowzy on release. Yes, they are fruity and varietally correct, but you can get that from Chardonnay grown in the Ardeche or South America. In my opinion, there is no point in drinking Meursault when it's like that.

But today's wine cognoscenti are too quick to dismiss these lower acid vintages. They decry them as too "New World" and move on. This is a mistake. These are wines that just need a little time. Even a single year seems to be enough. They start to shed their baby fat and give the sense that they "crisp" up. It is also around this time that the underlying Meursault character that is hidden by the fruit starts to emerge.

I have seen this happen even with the ultimate low-acid vintage, 2003. The wines from this vintage have literally no acidity, and they were downright unpleasant and un-Burgundian in their youth. But if you have the chance to drink them again now, you will be shocked. They have a remarkable sense of minerality -- a feature of the underlying terror, rather than the wine's acidity, since there isn't any! They are not my favorites by an means, but they turned out far better than ever expected.

So my rule of thumb on drinking Meursault young is: acid vintages you can drink right away, low acid vintages wait at least a year or two.

 

 For Those Who Prefer Maturity:

It is true, however, that the truly great experiences with Meursault require bottle age. Meursault starts to get mature at around age 7. It being 2015, this means that you can start thinking about any thing 2008 or earlier as potentially being mature.

But age 7 is just the beginning. Many of your 7 year-old bottles will not yet taste mature. In fact, some of them will be at an awkward middle-aged phase where the wine really doesn't seem to be performing well. Some people confuse this stage with premature oxidation. Premox is a very real phenomenon, but there is no reason to exaggerate the problem. If your wine seems a little flat and lifeless, it may just need a couple more years of cellaring.

So should you open up your 7-year old Meursault? You're pretty safe opening your village level wines, except from producers known for reductive wine-making. Wines from producers like Roulot and Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey take longer to come around. The wines are great so please give them the time they need. Start opening those wines at age 10, and don't be afraid to keep premier crus for longer. But village Meursault from a producer like Boyer-Martenot or a solid negociant like Bouchard will almost certainly start to drink like a fine mature wine from about age 7.

But, with one important caveat, there is no rush to drink Meursault once it hits maturity. The wine will continue to develop nicely for many years. Even village Meursault from a decent producer should drink well at age 15 (a recent 2000 Narvaux from Javillier was delish and felt like it would hold for many more years).

 

But what about premox!?

The important caveat, of course, is premox. On the one hand it is tough to be optimistic about this problem because we still don't know the cause. On the other hand, a number of factors that seem to contribute to the problem have been identified, and virtually all serious producers of white Burgundy have made numerous efforts to address those factors.

Take a producer like PYCM, who had premox problems with his very first vintages. Since then, he's used wider corks, wax-sealed capsules and taken numerous other measures to protect against premox. I'm not aware of any reports of premoxed PYCM bottles from around the 2006 vintage or sooner.

The problem is still there -- I've recently encountered premoxed 2008s and even 2010s from certain producers -- but I think it's reasonable to believe that instances of premox will be far less prevalent with current releases than wines released in the 1996-2002 period. There is still some risk involved with aging Meursault, but I believe it to be slight and well justified by the great rewards!

 

So here are my rules of thumb:

1. From classic vintages with good acidities, it's pleasurable to drink Meursault right away.

2. From vintages with low acidity, wait a year or two for the wine to shed baby fat and come into balance.

3. If you want mature Meursault, wait at least 7 years.

4. At age 7, drink village wines from producers who have a more forward style (Boyer-Martenot, Lafon).

5. Save premier crus or village wines from more reductive producers (Roulot, PYCM) until they are 10 years old.

6. Don't be afraid to hold them for up to 15 or even 20 years.

7. Don't be afraid of premox. We'll get far less premoxed bottles in the future than we've had in the past, and the risk is well worth the great rewards of mature Meursault!

Jeff Patten