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Why Burgundy’s Chambolle-Musigny wines are in a class of their own

These wines defy benchmarking in a number of ways.

My favourite among all Burgundy’s villages is Chambolle-Musigny, its delicacy and seeming weightlessness enchanting engaging.

One tries almost in vain to pin them down, to tie them to some more familiar and more easily identifiable sensory experience, but with limited success. The wine does not overwhelm the palate with thick bold flavours. The slightness and light-weightlessness of its imprint on the palate haunts and teases long after it is drunk. One searches one’s memory bank for a reference standard, for past landmarks, without success. The wine is its own reference.

Chambolle-Musigny Premier

Cru La Combe D’Orveaux 1997, Domaine Anne Gros

Dec 21, 2007, at dinner in Singapore

Medium-hued, orangey-red; clean, fresh aroma of ripe Pinot Noir fruit (strawberries), very pure. Limpid, medium-bodied on the palate, with light imprint at first, but gaining depth and weight with further airing. Good ripeness of fruit, balance, texture and weight. Not fully developed, still needs time, perhaps three to five years. Good to very good.

Chambolle-Musigny, 2000, Domaine Anne Gros

Dec 31, 2011, Japanese dinnerat the Ritz-Carlton

Medium-red, youthful, fresh Pinot Noir (strawberry) aroma, medium concentration, but lacked sufficient ripeness; may be still too young, and needing more time.

Musigny Grand Cru 1989, Maison Joseph Drouhin

Sept 23, 2007, at dinner in Robert Drouhin’s home in Beaune

Medium-dark garnet-red, with lovely warm sensuous bouquet of Musigny. A very fine, mature Burgundy at its peak, with a palate of mature Pinot Noir, the typical texture of Musigny – soft and gentle, caressing the palate. Not quite transparent in texture and a trifle short in length, though this is not a serious fault.

(RELATED: Respected wine collector NK Yong: Tips on how to expand your wine collection.)

Musigny Grand Cru 2006, Domaine J F Mugnier

Aug 19, 2017, dinner at the Ritz Carlton’s Chinese restaurant

Medium-dark red, with just a light brown tint at the edges. Bouquet still quite youthful, with a classic Pinot Noir aroma of ripe strawberries and raspberries. This was a big wine, with a deep dense body, packed with ripe fruit, good freshness, but lacking a little the trademark transparency of Musigny. At 11 years old, there was still a youthful maturity; perhaps it needs three to six years to attain full maturity.

Wines from the other communes of Burgundy such as Gevrey-Chambertin, Vosne-Romanee and Morey-St-Denis have their own charms and attractions, but do not enchant in the way Chambolle-Musigny wines do. Gevrey impresses, and sometimes even overpowers, with its density and power, reminding one of the Bordeaux wines of Pauillac; Vosne-Romanee, with its lushness, the wines of Chambolle, from Village level to Grand Cru, displays the basic Chambolle signature, distinguished by its own individual expressions of Chambolle’s “soft power”; Morey-St-Denis, with its classic and rich Pinot Noir presentation as exemplified by its Grand Cru Clos de la Roche, and Volnay, full and almost lush like the Pomerols of Bordeaux, Pommard round but sturdier than Volnay.

Chambolle-Musigny is resplendent with illustrious names such as Domaines Comte de Vogue, Christopher Roumier, and Jacques Frederic Mugnier; these are names to turn to for the finest expressions of this Village’s wines. This may not be easy as their productions are small, and demand is huge. Nevertheless, persistence is worthwhile.

The actual village itself is small, with narrow roads and blind corners that demand diligent driving, but you are rewarded with beautiful views. Visiting is not difficult as the top Domaines are all within a stone’s throw of each other. Every time I think of Chambolle-Musigny, I am reminded of that blissful morning in June 2010, having a coffee in a village cafe with my Burgundian friend, Georgia Gros, wife of Michel Gros (of Domaine Michel Gros).

We had just visited the three most esteemed growers, Domaines Comtes de Vogue, George (Christophe) Roumier and Jacques Frederic Mugnier; each visit ended in their cellars for a barrel tasting of their 2009 vintage wines. Imagine, a barrel tasting of the 2009 Musigny from the three most famous winemakers of this wine – our favourite Burgundy red, and from a great vintage.

It was sheer bliss. We could not have asked for more. It is a moment etched in one’s mind, to be re-lived each time one raises a glass of Musigny.

What of Pinot Noirs from other regions (countries)? One’s mind instinctively turns to Napa Valley and the wine regions of Germany, Australia and New Zealand. All four are, however, much warmer regions than Burgundy, because of which their wines tend to be bigger, heavier and bolder expressions of Pinot Noir, lacking in the delicacy that is the hallmark of Burgundy, and in particular, of the wines of Chambolle-Musigny.

The closest to Burgundy I have encountered so far are the Pinot Noirs of Friedrich Becker from Germany’s Rheinpfalz, Freeman Winery from Sonoma in USA, and New Zealand’s Felton Road, Ata Rangi, Carrick and Mt Difficulty.

(RELATED: Wine collector NK Yong on the importance of a bottle’s provenance and cellaring.)

Soft power! I am reminded of the Oliver Goldsmith’s famous Anglo-Irish play, She Stoops to Conquer. The secret weapon of soft power is that one is usually not unhappy to be overwhelmed by it!

Story originally appeared in a wine column by NK Yong, for The Business Times. The writer is involved in the distribution of the wines of Freeman Winey and Domaine J F Mugnier in Singapore.

PHOTO dpotera