Montrachet is the King of White Burgundy, this hallowed vineyard yields some of the finest white wines in the world. From my far and few between experiences with Montrachet, I have noticed some Montrachet Grand Cru wines display a small amount of botrytis flavours, but it varies significantly across vintages and producers.
What is Botrytis?
Botrytis cinerea (also known as noble rot) is a fungi that causes grapes to become partially ‘raisined‘. This fungi strives at warm and humid climate. The effect of raisined grape concentrates the sugar and acidity of the grape and are very desirable when making sweet wines in regions like Sauternes, Tokaji, etc. Botrytis also introduce new flavours and different chemical compounds to the wine, such as glycerol (sweet smell) and gluconic acid by oxidising glucose. Botrytis also secretes an enzyme pectinases that breaks down plant tissue.
How is Botrytis affecting Montrachet?
Botrytis is observed across the entire Burgundy region and many other wine regions, not just in Le Montrachet. I have tasted quite a few white Burgundies from different producers and different vineyards that showed signs of botrytis, such as Joseph Drouhin Clos des Mouches Blanc.
Grapes are more susceptible to botrytis when the weather is warm and slightly humid, and when grapes ripen slowly. For grape growers who cultivates the vineyards organically or biodynamically, they are also more susceptible to botrytis infection in the vineyards as they do not use any anti-botrytis spray in the vineyards.
There are certain vintages of white Burgundy that botrytis are more apparent than others, such as 1996, 1998, 2005, 2011. These vintages have optimal conditions for botrytis to develop. Hot temperature doesn’t mean botrytis is guaranteed, in fact most producers didn’t observe any botrytis in 2003 as the heat spiked up quickly without enough moisture in the air for the botrytis to develop.
Is Botrytis ‘Desirable’ in Montrachet? (or in any dry white wines)
Full-on intense botrytis is generally regarded as a negative component in almost all non-sweet wines, with a few exceptions such as Nicolas Joly in Loire. Some Montrachet wines are affected by small amounts of botrytis, which marginally intensifies the flavours and adds add extra layer of flavours such as honey, beeswax, pineapple-ginger, and even a perception of sweetness. I have enjoyed many white wines that had very small amounts (1-5%) of botrytis, though too much botrytis can mask the true character of the grape or at worst ruin the taste of the wine. Apparently it is not unusual to find small doses of botrytis in Domaine de la Romanee Conti Montrachet.
Edouard Labruyère from Domaine Jacques Prieur said he is happy to see small amounts of botrytis in his Chardonnay grapes, somewhere around 1-5% of botrytis grapes would add complexity to the wine. Anything more than 5% may negatively impact the wine.
Montrachet I have tasted recently with Botrytis
- Delagrange Bachelet Le Montrachet 1993
- Jacques Prieur Montrachet 2005 (premox with botrytis)
- Louis Latour Montrachet 1995 (very subtle botrytis)
- Vaucher & Cie Le Montrachet 1996 (strong botrytis)
- Albert Bichot Montrachet 1999 (subtle botrytis)
Personally I quite enjoy Montrachet and other white Burgundies with a detectable botrytis aromas, the botrytis adds more complexity and brings extra flavour flavours to the wine. However, if the wine suffers too much from botrytis it could also suggest the grapes were picked marginally over-ripe and ultimately mask the nuance and the terroir. Readers who are interested to taste white Burgundies with botrytis aromas should seek bottles from producers that are more susceptible to botrytis, such as Domaine Jacques Prieur, Domaine de La Romanee Conti, Bouchard, Domaine Fontaine-Gagnard, Delagrange, Vaucher, Albert Bichot, etc. Certain vintages in Burgundy are also considered more susceptible to botrytis infection, such as 1996, 1998, 2005, 2011. To the contrary, avoid these producers and vintages for a cleaner style of white Burgundy.