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A visit to J-M Fourrier 11/05/2006 (TNB)

It was a great pleasure to taste Jean-Marie Fourrier's 2005 vintage from barrel recently and to hear him talking about his wines and winemaking. I already was an admirer of what is becoming recognised as one of the great Burgundy estates and hearing more about his philosophy only increased my confidence in him. I like particularly the attention to detail, and the minimal intervention and low chemical use which is guided by a spirit of rational analysis rather than just signing up to a fashionable package of magic like biodynamics.

There's one important thing about Fourrier's wines, which is that they need decanting and some time to breathe before serving. This is because a central theme of his winemaking is keeping the wine in a slightly reductive state with little exposure to oxygen and bottling with quite a lot of dissolved CO2 (about 800mg since you ask, compared to a more normal 300-400mg and the level of human perception at around 950mg). He achieves this by leaving the wine undisturbed on its lees for 18 months (no racking) and it means that he can use very little sulphur. He believes that this gives his wines a great aging capacity and that is probably so although he has only been in charge since 1995 and thus it is a little soon to say. In any case, the elegant, controlled style and the sheer purity makes the wines rewarding even when quite young.

Another contribution to the drinkability of these wines is the modest use of new oak - about 20% for all the cuvees which is a figure that works well with the approximate 5-year life-cycle of a barrel. Fourrier is reluctant to use more partly because to do so is plundering a resource which is growing scarce but also I think he simply does not want to tart the wines up. I asked about a view attributed to him that one should use more new oak on village wines than on Grand Crus: he says he did not quite say that - all he said was that he could see an argument that if one was to use more on some wines, it might be sensible to do so on lower-classification wines that need a bit of extra help. As he put it, the more beautiful the woman the less she needs make-up.

Most of Fourrier's vineyards are in Gevrey and he explained that the village is divided in half by the stream running a little North of East downhill. North of that one tends to get the big earthy wines that one thinks of as typically Gevrey. Fourrier has a parcel of the great Clos St Jacques in this area: an interesting vineyard because the dividing lines between the five growers run all the way up the hill and so each has some higher-altitude vines which give finesse and lower ones that contribute more richness. From that area too he makes a lovely Champeaux (like a slightly less grand, possibly slightly higher-toned St Jacques, perhaps), a Combe aux Moins that tends to exotic gamyness and Goulots which is high up the slope and has less body but emphasises minerality. His excellent Gevrey village wine also comes from this area.

Wines from the South of the village tend to be more elegant, slightly lighter perhaps but with extra finesse. The various Chambertin grand crus are at this end and Fourrier has a holding of Griotte Chambertin with its chalky soil really emphasising purity and minerality and lovely cherry fruit (although the name of the vineyard comes from the chalky soil, not the French word for cherries). He also has Cherbaudes from just below Mazis and a village wine Aux Echezeaux (which makes a fascinating contrast with the North-Gevrey generic village wine).

From Chambolle, there is a very high-quality village wine, quite dry and mineral, probably because like all Fourrier's wines the vines average at least 40 years old. There is also the premier cru Gruenchers - also mineral but most notable to me for its flamboyancy, it is always quite exotic and lush without ever being simple or soft. Beyond that, from Morey there is a premier cru, Clos des Sorbes, that I have never tasted and a reliable village wine, Clos Solon. There is also the premier cru Vougeots les Petits Vougeot.

Fourrier likens 2005 currently to 1997 - a vintage where the modest acidity made it a challenge to produce ageworthy wine. We were tasting unfinished wines here and given that I don't do that often - wouldn't in fact want to more than occasionally - I don't want to attach too much significance to my tasting notes. In any case, I felt things tasted very much as they should - Fourrier's winemaking allows differences in terroir to shine through. Everything was of excellent quality and I feel that the village wines will probably merit three stars in time and the premier crus an easy four, probably without exception. The St Jacques and the Griotte might even rate more at peak. One thing I would say is that the purity and taughtness of the wines means that some of them are quite demanding - intense and mineral and less obviously fruity, and this will be emphasised if you do not follow my advice on breathing. I rather like these wines that demand a little more attention and coaxing but they are not crowd-pleasers. Based on this visit and previous experiences I would probably put the Gevrey Goulots, Griotte Chambertin, Vougeot Petits Vougeot, Gevrey aux Echezeaux and the village Chambolle in this category at this stage but reserve the right to change my mind in the face of future drinking experiences.

Anyway, this is one of my very favourite Burgundy estates, and my absolute favourite of those that are more or less affordable. Buy while you have the chance and don't forget those village wines which are tremendous Burgundies for their prices.

Article added to Fine Wine Diary 28/06/2006   Return to top