François Lamarche Echézeaux 2003
I think we have all done it. You tuck away the remains of an unfinished bottle in the fridge, and return to it sometime later, probably the following evening. What might have been a slightly questionable wine 24 hours before is now suddenly transformed; the tannins have softened and taken on an unanticipated silky elegance. The very feel of the palate has tightened up, the fuzzy uncertainty clearing to reveal precision and clarity of substance, the flavours showing greater definition in the process. All of a sudden (well, after a 24-hour wait, to be pedantic) you have a much more convincing wine on your hands.
"I bet this would age well", we might mutter to ourselves.
I'm not sure if there is any correlation between staying power once opened, in other words the wine's apparent ability to resist succumbing to oxidation once exposed, and its ability to age well under cork, transforming in the process from youthful substance to elegant repose. The two processes are surely different, not just in the time frame concerned but also in the not-so-simple chemistry of it all. Nevertheless, not for the first time this weekend I found myself wondering if there might be something in it, as I watched this week's Weekend Wine - a 2003 Echézeaux from Domaine François Lamarche - transform from confused, wannabe-Châteauneuf-du-Pape into a wine of elegance that was unmistakeably born on the Côte d'Or.
I'll come back to this question in a moment, but first it wouldn't be a Winedoctor Weekend Wine without a little refresher on appellation, commune and vineyard. And when it comes to Burgundy, I need reminding as much as the next drinker! The map on the left - taken from my Burgundy wine guide - shows us that the Echézeaux grand cru vineyard (the darker green sections in the upper part of the map) is a large, complex, multi-parcellated and L-shaped site that sits upslope of the Clos de Vougeot and Grands-Echézeaux grands crus. In fact, those criticisms so frequently directed at Clos de Vougeot - that it is too large, and the terroir too variable - can also be applied to Echézeaux. Last time I checked the vineyard covered 37.7 hectares. In a manner akin to the use of the length of a Routemaster London double-decker bus, the weight of an elephant, or the area of Wales, in a unilateral move which I encourage you to emulate I have recently introduced the size of the Château Lafleur vineyard as a standard unit of measure. In this context I refer to the unit simply as a 'Lafleur'. Thus the area covered by the grand cru Echézeaux is equivalent to a little more than 8.3 Lafleurs. In other words, this is a rather over-sized grand cru vineyard.
Within such a large vineyard the climat of origin may have considerable importance in determining the style and quality of the wine. Generalising, those climats lower down the slope have more clay and yield richer wines, whereas those higher up have more sandy soils, and what results is more elegant. The difference is not as marked as in Clos de Vougeot, as at least here the vines do not run all the way down to the road, but there is certainly a climat-effect. Two worth noting perhaps more than others include Echézeaux-du-Dessus and Les Poulaillières; both lie just above Grands-Echézeaux, and the latter counts the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti amongst its proprietors.
Sadly I'm not sure where the 1.35 hectares of Lamarche vines that lie within the Echézeaux vineyard are located, so I will just have to go on taste. The 2003 Echézeaux from Domaine François Lamarche has a remarkably rich and deep colour, surely a marker of the vintage. Rather disconcertingly there is a little volatility on the nose at first, but this soon blows off, leaving behind fruit with a rather roasted character, tinged with leather, in keeping with the character of the vintage. At first there is still a little note of balsamic to it though, with notes of sur-maturité as well. It all feels a little reminiscent of the 2003 Clos de Vougeot, on which I reported almost a year ago. The difference here, however, is that coming back to the Echézeaux 24 hours later the nose seemed much tighter and focused, suggesting a more linear character to the fruit. This development was mirrored on the palate, which started off rather rich and full, textured with baked fruit and balsamic tinges, albeit underpinned by a dry structure and some ripe, polished tannins, giving a lot of backbone. But the following day, again it felt fresher and more linear, with more sharply defined edges, which might suggest - I hope so, anyway - that there is a chance of some positive development here. This certainly seemed to be a wine of the vintage, rather than the region, when I first opened it, but it could still make old bones I think. I have no strong position, but it is worth remembering that some in the region liken 2003 to the great 1947 vintage. 17/20
None of which, of course, answers my opening question about the development of the recently opened wine as a marker of what might happen in the cellar. Having seen the transformation here, I'm a little more confident about what the future may hold for this bottle, but it is gut feeling more than evidence or experience. What I do know is, even with just a handful of bottles in the cellar, I will be able to judge this particular wine's performance over the coming decades, and we shall see if its metamorphosis this weekend is mirrored by its future development. (15/10/12)