Meursault - the other white burgundy

A brief e-mail from an old friend and avid burgundy collector Francois Gautier said: "I shall be in Singapore from Aug 7 to 13. I've also bought Meursault Perrieres 1990 and also Puligny Combettes 1985 and 1990 of Robert Ampeau. It would be good to organise something around those nice bottles, right?" An invitation like that is not to be missed, so last Tuesday we happily had dinner (with a few other wine-loving friends) at the Italian restaurant Osteria Art.

Dinner Wine List

Gran Siecle NV, Laurent Perrier

Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Combettes 1990, Domaine Robert Ampeau

Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Combettes 1985, Domaine Robert Ampeau

Meursault 1er Cru Perrieres 1990, Domaine Robert Ampeau

Bonnes Mares Grand Cru 2004, Domaine Robert Groffier

Chambertin Clos de Beze Grand Cru 2004, Domaine Robert Groffier

Gran Siecle NV Laurent Perrier

A mature golden colour, its tiny bubbles glistening in the light. The bouquet of a mature champagne - a rich palate, nutty and lemony-orange in taste, with a clean satisfying finish.

This is one of my favourite champagnes. Gran Siècle may be non-vintage but is the deluxe cuvee of Champagne Laurent Perrier, the equivalent of Moet's Dom Perignon.

Why non-vintage for a deluxe cuvee?

Bernard de Nonancourt, owner of Laurent Perrier, wanted to highlight Champagne's traditional test of proficiency, the blending of different crus from different vintages. Gran Siècle blends complementary wines from Laurent-Perrier's best vineyards and best vintages. (It could be regarded as LP's equivalent of Krug's Gran Cuvee.) It is a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, all from 100 per cent Grands Crus, eg Ambonnay, Verzenay, Mailly, Avize, Cramant, Chouilly and Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. The blended wine is aged during the second fermentation for about five years.

I try and restrain myself from opening my Gran Siecle on purchase because I think they are even better after ageing for another year or two in bottle. This additional maturity gives the wine a richer and more complex taste. To achieve this, one would have to purchase twice the desired quantity on first purchase, consume at most only the first half, leaving the second half to mature for a year. When the first half has been consumed purchase another lot of bottles to lay down and you can then drink the bottles initially laid down.

(Incidentally, this champagne has won critical acclaim from the usual wine critics.)

Meursault 1er Cru Perrieres 1990, Robert Ampeau

Medium-golden colour, glistening. Unusually for Ampeau, there was still a lot of oak flavour in the bouquet which I found a bit disturbing, as it was something I had not seen before in other Ampeau bottles. Also present was a faint aroma of truffles in the bouquet, another reminder of the maturity of the wine. A beautiful Meursault, lovely fruit, right balance. Very Ampeau!

Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Combettes 1985, Robert Ampeau

A glistening golden colour, the aroma of an old white burgundy, redolent with mushrooms and truffles. A delicious and full round taste on the palate, pineapple and nut flavours, very good acidity and length, lovely. In perfect condition for its age.

Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Combettes 1990, Robert Ampeau

Golden colour, but interestingly it was denser in colour than the 1985, lighter bouquet though, same characteristics but more youthful as expected. At peak on the palate, with touches of oranges and mixed nuts, good acidity and length, though not quite as long as the 1985. Very good.

Three mature white burgundies, at peak and in perfect condition, as expected when the wines came from Domaine Robert Ampeau. (Francois bought these wines from a wine store in Beaune, not from the Domaine. "There were only seven bottles, I bought all of them," he said with a very happy smile!) That is perhaps the only way to get hold of Ampeau's wines, buying directly from the Domaine being impossible.

Domaine Robert Ampeau, Meursault

This is a rather reclusive Domaine. I attempted to visit the Domaine some 20-plus years ago but was unsuccessful. The son Michael took over in 1986, so perhaps I should try again as he may be more receptive!

Ampeau makes very good wines, both white and red. The Domaine's policy is that they release their wines only when they consider that they are ready for drinking, and this is usually 6-7 years after the vintage. (This policy has now been adopted by Château Latour, which no longer takes part in the en primeur campaign beginning with the 2012 vintage, selling its wines on the Bordeaux place only when they are ready for drinking.)

The Domaine owns a total of 10 hectares of vineyards in several communes - Puligny Montrachet, Meursault, Volnay, Savigny-les-Beaune, Auxey-Duresses, Blagny and Pommard. Its red wines are as good as its white, it is said. Unusually for such a distinguished domaine, Ampeau harvests mechanically, NOT by hand! (Clive Coates, COTE D'OR, 1977)

Meursault is one of two major white wines of Burgundy - the other being Puligny Montrachet - but, at least in Singapore, and perhaps Asia, it is less well-known than Puligny and hence less often seen and consumed. Which is a shame as top Meursaults are every bit as fine as top Puligny Montrachets. Meursault's disadvantage is that it does NOT have a Grand Cru! Only Premiers Crus. Perhaps this may be the reason for its lower prominence and visibility.

How does Meursault shape up beside Puligny? Years ago, in my early experiences with Puligny Montrachet and Meursault, I found it difficult to distinguish between a Puligny and a Meursault. I recall asking a visiting wine critic I met in the mid-1980s how to recognise a Meursault as opposed to a Puligny. He understood my dilemma and laughed gently. "Drink more Puligny and Meursault!" Sound advice because it was simple and fun to follow!

Put simply, Meursault has a broader and a slight but distinctively savoury element in its taste profile. Almost salty. Puligny has a slimmer profile, a little sharper but smooth kind of acidity, as if there was some lime in it. Put them side by side and taste alternately, and then blind-folded, and get a friend to offer you a glass without identifying it.

Which is better or the greater wine? Not a sane question!

And as for growers? There is a multitude of them. Suggestions? Ampeau, of course, but difficult to find and not readily available locally. Lafon, certainly (I mention this with one caveat and one disclaimer - I am involved in the distribution of Lafon). There are also Drouhin, Jadot, Faiveley, Jobard, Jean-Michel Gaunoux. And Coche-Dury, of course, but very expensive. Stick to the big Maisons - Drouhin, Jadot and Faiveley. Reliable, more readily available and reasonably-priced!

This article was first published on August 14, 2015. Get The Business Times for more stories.