Friday, April 20, 2007

Premature Oxidation in Burgundy Whites

You have probably been hearing some whispers and — if you subscribe to any of the big wine magazines — full on debates about the oxidized wine problem in late ‘90s Burgundy vintages. Specifically, many consumers, as well as growers, have noted problems with premature oxidation in Burgundy whites from the 1996 through 1999 vintages.

Most experts agree that the problems are due mainly to newfangled corks. Long-story-short some materials used in traditional corks, which had been associated with cork taint, have been replaced by materials that have oxidant powers as well as, arguably, allow more air back into the bottle through the cork.

Other issues that seem to be adding fuel to the fire are somewhat new winemaking techniques such as stirring the lees (or sediment) in the barrels (the fancy schmancy term is battonage) and using less sulphur to protect the wine from oxidation.

What piqued our interest in this particular topic is that Vino Girl and Winemonkey scored some awesome White Burgs from or around the offending vintages at auction over the past year — or, err, we thought they were going to be awesome. Phew, I am happy to report that we came through unscathed with our 2000 Deleger Chassagne-Montrachet Dent de Chien and our 1997 Latour Criots Batard Montrachet which show no signs of tarnish.

We did, however, experience the phenomenon firsthand at a pre-sale tasting just last evening. The White Burgundy in question was just shy of gold in color and had a nutty flavor and worn-out palate. Although it was certainly not pretty to taste, it was worth it to see what all the hub-bub is about.

The good news here is that many critics, including Clive Coates at Decanter, are reporting that more recent Burgundy vintages, such as 2002, are showing no signs of advanced oxidation. Winemonkey and I have tasted a good deal of Whites from 2004 and 2005 and have thus far found them stellar. White Burgs are a personal fav, so I find myself sighing with relief. The only thing I have not seen addressed is what changed after 1999 that this problem is contained to a mere four vintages? Perhaps I should spend more time on the boards and find out what the self-professed experts are saying! Cheers.


  1. Cork companies in the late 1990's started using hydrogen peroxide to wash corks instead of chlorine. The residual amount of peroxide was a partial cause for the wine's oxidation.

  2. `battonage` is a French term that French people use....quelle horreur!
    `fancyshmancy` is obviously American.
    I know which one I would use !