Reflections on quality, taste, and Coche-Dury’s white Burgundies

William Kelley on Burgundy http://wfkelley.com

Domaine Coche-Dury’s wines are almost universally celebrated as the pinnacle of white Burgundy. As John Gilman writes, in many ways, Jean-François Coche ‘wears a mantle in the pantheon of white Burgundy winemakers that Henri Jayer wears amongst the red winemakers’, and since Raphaël Coche officially took over the reins from his father in 2010 this 5.5 ha domaine’s lustre has in no way dimmed. A great deal of words have been spent exploring what might account for the quality of Coche’s wines: impeccable viticulture, low yields, pressing crushed berries, a brief débourbage to retain suspended solids, long sur lie aging with judicious batonage, and a fastidious choice of barrels have all been adduced as explanations, none of them mutually exclusive. But whatever the origin of Coche-Dury’s quality, few would question that it is there in the bottle, and the domaine’s annual production of some 4,200 cases commands staggering prices in the marketplace. Indeed, such is the consensus about the quality of the Coche wines that for several years I entertained some scepticism: surely no domaine could be quite that good?

William Kelley on Burgundy http://wfkelley.com

But the more Coche-Dury I drink, the more I am forced to conclude that the wines really are that good. Coche’s AOC Meursaults are routinely more profound than top 1er crus from the most celebrated producers, and the lieu dit  and 1er cru Meursaults are simply as good as dry white wine gets. The house style is strong: incredible intensity and depth of flavour married with vibrant acidity and minerality, framed by beautifully integrated new oak of the highest quality, the barrels’ toast complementing the noisette of ripe chardonnay. But on the other hand, while some critics claim that Coche’s strong winemaking style effaces the identity of distinctive climats, I don’t find this to be the case. Indeed, Coche’s two bottlings of village Meursault from adjacent lieux dits, Les Rougeots and Les Chevalières, offer eloquent testimony to just how terroir-specific the domaine’s wines are these days: Rougeots, with its more sunny exposition, is richer and rounder with riper fruit tones of apple and pear; Chevalières is leaner and more citrus—and both wines, which hail from essentially identical soils, share a profound base of minerality. Coche-Dury’s brilliant 1er crus Caillerets, Genévrières and Perrières are all similarly distinctive and transparent. What’s more, in the era of premature oxidation only very, very few producers seem to have so enviable a record of dependable longevity as Coche’s wines.

William Kelley on Burgundy http://wfkelley.com

For me, all this makes Coche-Dury’s wines the ne plus ultra of white Burgundy, but I can also understand why others might dissent. Other producers of white Burgundy produce wines with strong site-specific character and with their own distinctive domaine styles: Jean-Marc Roulot’s Meursaults above all foreground the minerality of Meursault’s clay-limestone terroirs; in recent vintages Alex Moreau’s strikingly intense range of Chassagne-Montrachet 1er crus do the same in a different village; and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s Montrachet is a white wine paradigm unto itself. One might prefer the style of any of these domaines, in the same way that in Chablis one might prefer the style of Louis Michel or Dauvissat to Raveneau’s fuller, more textural wines. I have met several tasters who don’t really care for Coche, or who simply find Coche’s style no more thrilling than, say, Roulot’s. In so far as it goes, this is simply a matter of taste, not quality. I would maintain, however, that the consideration of longevity does mean that Coche’s rivals are few—though at least DRC and Raveneau might number among them. The dependable longevity of Coche’s wines gives them the capacity to actualise their potential, elevating them above the seemingly-glorious but nowadays too-often stillborn bottlings from the likes of Ramonet, Comtes Lafon and Leflaive—at least until those domaines can prove that they can recapture the magic they once routinely achieved until the mid-1990s. Coche-Dury’s wines thus pose interesting questions about how far judgements of quality are extricable from questions of taste.

William Kelley on Burgundy http://wfkelley.com

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