Joseph Drouhin “Monty and Moose”
BY NEAL MARTIN | OCTOBER 27, 2020
“Monty and Moose” sounds like a kids’ program on Cartoon Network instead of the two most revered Grand Crus in the Côte d’Or. Oenophiles have a habit of nicknaming vineyards because, aside from being easier to pronounce, nicknames make them seem more personable, like a mate you meet down the pub, instead of royalty. Had you eavesdropped on a telephone conversation in my buying days, you would probably have heard phrases like “Got any Moose?” or “Can you knock off a few quid on that Monty?”
In this piece I combine two verticals of Domaine Joseph Drouhin’s Montrachet and Musigny, to give them their proper titles. They were in fact conducted months apart, the Montrachet on the eve of my surgery and the Musigny a few months earlier, the latter tasting organized by collector Jordi Orriols-Gil. Why did they take so long to publish? Well, a wine writer should always keep something in their back pocket for a rainy day. Co-proprietor Véronique Drouhin-Boss attended both events and kindly colored in supplementary historical detail before rushing off to oversee the harvest in Oregon. I have augmented these tasting notes with mature vintages of the domaine’s Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses, since it makes an interesting juxtaposition with Musigny. It is not a given that this Grand Cru is always superior to what many would call a Grand Cru in all but name.
I will not repeat the history of Domaine Drouhin, as that is recounted in detail in much of Burgundy’s wine literature.
Looking at Montrachet from the northeast corner of the vineyard. This was actually taken in early October 2020 on a morning jog through Puligny!
Joseph Drouhin’s Montrachet comes from land that has belonged to the Laguiche family since 1776. In 1947, Jean de Laguiche made an agreement with the Drouhin family to use their expertise in overseeing harvest, vinification and marketing. The significant 2.06 hectares of vine constitutes the largest holding in Montrachet, located on its northerly border in the Puligny half of the vineyard. Naturally, the vines, planted in 1961, 1970 and 1984, are picked by hand and transferred to the Drouhins’ capacious winery on the outskirts of Beaune. A pneumatic press gently squeezes the berries for a long duration; then, after débourbage to get rid of sediment, the wine is raised in barrel using around 25% new oak.
The origin of Drouhin’s Musigny is also one based on personal relationships, albeit different from the one behind Montrachet. Maurice Drouhin, the grandfather of Véronique Drouhin, purchased grapes from Frédéric Mugnier’s great-uncle, Marcel Mugnier. When Marcel passed away in 1944, he bequeathed the vines in Musigny to his petite amie (girlfriend) Madame Adrien, a Dijon-based opera singer. The remaining 1.15 hectares belongs to incumbent proprietor Frédéric Mugnier. Of course, an opera singer might have a penchant for wine but is no vigneron, so Madame Adrien continued to sell fruit to the Drouhin family. After Maurice Drouhin suffered a stroke in 1957, his nephew Robert took over operations. Having completed his military service, Robert had planned to spend a few years learning about wine, but his uncle’s untimely passing threw him in at the deep end at the age of 24. What he lacked in knowledge was soon made up with hands-on experience and business acumen. Among other holdings, such as Les Amoureuses and Bonnes-Mares, Robert acquired the parcel of Musigny in 1961 under the terms of a viager, guaranteeing Madame Adrien an income after the sale until her death.
“My grandfather did not keep a lot of wine in the cellar, so bottles preceding 1961 are very rare,” Véronique Drouhin noted ruefully, and unsurprisingly, she was as excited as any attendee about to taste the wines. “Our Musigny is in the lieu-dit of Les Grands Musigny; to the north are the vines belonging to Leroy and to the south, J-F Mugnier. There are in fact three parcels of different-aged vines, though one was pulled out in 2016, which was a very small crop. In total there is 0.68 hectares of vine that makes six to eight barrels, though there were nine in 2009. It has been farmed biodynamically since 1990 and the vines are a massal selection propagated at our own nursery.”
As you would expect, the vines are picked by hand and undergo a two- or three-week cuvaison using natural yeasts. Most of the bunches are de-stemmed, in recent vintages around 30% of the crop. Punching down is usually daily during the first half of the fermentation, and pumping over continues often until the end. Drouhin’s Musigny sees a little less new oak than others, around 20%, for a duration of between 14 and 18 months.
Véronique and Michel Drouhin-Boss, pictured here at the Musigny tasting held at La Trompette.
Commencing with the vertical of Montrachet, the tasting in London stretched back to 1992, though I have augmented with older notes, such as the 1961 and 1978 Montrachet, both of which aged remarkably well, particularly the marzipan- and butterscotch-tinged 1961 encountered in Beaune. Both the 1990 and 1991 Montrachet were poured at a La Paulée in Burgundy. The former has a captivating, striking Benedictine-scented nose courtesy of that season’s scorching summer, while the latter was punchy and waxy-textured. To be honest, the outstanding 1992 Montrachet eclipses both, imbued with spine-tingling mineralité and harmony, particularly on the finish. This gem could be cellared for another couple of decades.
Moving into the 21st century, the 2000 Montrachet is probably overlooked, but once you get past the deeper-than-expected color, there are gorgeous orange blossom and butterscotch scents to relish, and a nutty, Meursault-inspired palate that delivers all the salinity required on the finish. The 2002 Montrachet is one of my favorite vintages in recent years, the perfume so seductive that you want to steal some of it and take it home, fabulous oyster notes developing in the glass and tangible on the aftertaste. And though I am not a fan of the vintage, the 2004 Montrachet surpassed my expectations just because it felt so alive, underpinned by a racy line of acidity that keeps you on your toes. Our bottle of 2006 Montrachet indicated premature oxidation and tasted more like Chenin Blanc on the palate. Order was restored with the excellent, saline 2008 Montrachet, though this was overshadowed by the magnificent 2009 Montrachet, which Véronique Drouhin described as an “easy vintage,” lovely honeysuckle and yellow flower aromas bursting forth on the nose with outstanding penetration. The 2011 Montrachet was quite deep in color and delivered a captivating, almost Sémillon-like finish. The 2016 Montrachet was a tiny production, reduced by 50% due to the late spring frost, yet the result is a small crop offering intense citrus fruit laced with brioche and white peach on the nose, and lively and energetic on the palate, with immense weight and sustain on the finish. Expect this to age well over many years.
Moving onto the Musigny, the retrospective stretched back to the 1940s and as such must represent one of the most comprehensive overviews. “For me it is the nicest expression of Pinot Noir in Burgundy,” Véronique Drouhin enthused, pointing toward the ”cashmere texture” as just one of its many virtues. We were privileged with venerable bottles that are extremely rare. However, I am always going to communicate how a wine is and not what I hoped it to be. This was one of those occasions when the older vintages were debilitated by time in one way or another.
We commenced with the 1943 Musigny, picked and vinified by women, since the men were fighting in the war. Alas, the bottle was of curiosity value only and failed to live up to some of the bon mots that I have read elsewhere. It was not undrinkable, but not what it ought to be either. And despite the 1959 Musigny coming from a renowned Burgundy collector’s cellar, I found it disappointing in the context of a revered growing season and discombobulated by excessive volatility. The 1961 Musigny was better, savory and tarry on the nose, quite tannic and marine-like on the palate; a swarthy Musigny with a Médoc-like finish. Being the cold-hearted critic that I am, I just have a feeling that this is past its modest peak. I expected greater things from the 1964 Musigny given the precocity of the growing season. I admired its truffle- and morel-scented nose, yet found it rather hollow and missing substance on the palate. I have much fonder memories of the 1964 Les Amoureuses, which was more in line with the precocious vintage.
Old bottles are always a gamble, and Lady Luck was always not on our side. Fortunately, though, the 1970s turned out to be a more fecund decade, beginning with a fabulous 1971 Musigny, offering morels and chestnut on the mature nose, velvety-smooth on the palate, and fanning out with effortless ease toward the finish. The 1972 Musigny was just as good, paler than the 1971 with a higher-toned bouquet, featuring red cherries and orange zest, bright and nimble on the palate and revealing an irony tincture on the finish. Marvelous! The 1976 Musigny was not in the same class; it was leafy aromatically and lacking some acidity, as you would expect in such a warm growing season. The 1978 Musigny was superior, presenting an effervescent nose, a harmonious balsamic-tinged palate and a very persistent multifaceted finish; this could last another decade at least. The 1979 Musigny was one of the gems of that decade. This was the second time I encountered it, and the bouquet revealed stupendous clarity, touches of Japanese seaweed surfacing with time. The palate retains great energy and precision. This is surely one of the finest releases in what was a tricky growing season.
Moving on to the 1980s, I am a huge fan of the underestimated 1980 vintage, but perhaps because of high expectations, I was a little underwhelmed by this wine, which was open-knit and rustic on the nose and hampered by a slightly attenuated finish. As I comment in my tasting note, it lacks a bit of gravitas. The 1983 Musigny should be considered a success in a vintage plagued by rain during harvest. It showed no signs of any gray rot, offering incense and pressed flowers on the nose. While the palate is a little rustic and could not disguise some dryness on the finish, there is plenty of decayed red fruit and adequate freshness. That said, I would not leave bottles too long in the cellar. The 1985 Musigny continued the ferrous theme aromatically, the palate detailed and showing more complexity than the previous wines, though given the reputation of the vintage, it would benefit from more length. The 1989 Musigny was a big surprise because I am not an ardent fan of this growing season. But here I adored the black-truffle-scented nose and the soupçon of spice on the finish. Yes, perhaps it lacked a bit of flamboyancy on the finish, but it is certainly one of the best 1989 Côtes de Nuits I have met.
We skipped the early 1990s to launch into the 1996 Musigny, which sported a beguiling pine needle and dried blood bouquet and traces of freshly rolled tobacco on the palate. It displayed a little obduracy, like many red Burgundy wines in this vintage, and my score may be construed as mean because while I enjoyed it, I cannot see where it will go or how it will evolve. A big surprise was the quality of the 1997 Musigny. It has a beautiful floral bouquet that is less ferrous than older vintages, a fleshy texture and impressive density on the finish. This must be the dark horse of the decade. Equal to that was a 1998 Musigny that came across a little broody but was redeemed by its fine-boned structure and finesse toward the finish. Charming? Maybe not as much as other vintages, but there would not be a drop left if I found myself alone in a room with a bottle. The 1999 Musigny surpassed everything. With its precocious bouquet, it doled out fruit laced with black truffle – ingeniously, without masking any of its mineralité. Lithe and supple on the palate with plenty of grip, this was a Musigny that recaptured the flair and multidimensional aspect that had been in short supply during the previous two decades. In many ways, it is an omen of things to come.
The 2002 Musigny might be slightly paler in color than other vintages, yet like many of the best wines in this vintage, it has evolved a captivating floral bouquet, perhaps the most ethereal on any Musigny from Drouhin, and while it lets the 1999 steal the limelight, its nuance and complexity are enthralling. Finally, the most recent vintage was the 2008 Musigny, which I felt was a little more mature in color than expected and a bit more rustic than either the 1999 or the 2002. The palate is rather masculine and structured, yet when afforded two or three hours’ aeration, it evolved more flesh and depth.
These comparative tastings demonstrate how growing seasons influence quality. Just because a bottle bears the label of an illustrious Grand Cru does not mean it is immune to variations caused by Mother Nature in the vineyard or by human decisions in the winery. Certainly, with respect to the flights of Musigny, the highlights clustered toward recent vintages despite wonderful showings of the 1971 and 1972. Granted, on another day and with better luck, the venerable bottles might have grabbed headlines. What I took home from this tasting is that the introduction of better vineyard husbandry, entwined with biodynamic viticulture incepted in 1988, has led to much better wines. Certification from ECOCERT was only awarded in 2006 – these things take time. The fruits of so-called “tiny footsteps in the vineyard” can be tasted both literally and figuratively in recent vintages.
Monty and Moose: it does sound like a kids’ TV show! Maybe it could introduce the next generation to the joys of Burgundy; you’re never too young to learn.
See the Wines from Youngest to Oldest
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