Spotlight on White Burgundy: Philippe Pacalet Puligny-Montrachet 2009

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Burgundy is a land both buoyed and chained by tradition. Its long history has led to a discovery of nuance that is unparallelled in the world. The sheer virtuosity of place can overwhelm innovation. Certain characteristics have been wedded so long with certain terroirs that many producers seek only the predetermined goal of typicite. But is this always desirable?

The Challenge of Pacalet: ‘Naturalism’ in Burgundy

Philippe Pacalet is one of very few new producers in Burgundy. He rents all his plots given the obscene land ownership rules that govern the region. He is a man who is clearly dedicated to the concept of ‘terroir’ but who is not afraid to start chipping away at certain chaining conventions.

Pacalet challenges the norm by adopting similar techniques to his uncle Marcel Lapierre: use of indigenous yeasts, no added enzymes and no use of sulphur except in very small quantities at bottling.

He also criticizes Burgundy for having ‘inbred’ vines, propagated from identical rootstock, that are not disease resistant. He believes vines should be GMO’d to provide for better disease resistance and therefore allowing farmers to use less spray. Of course, this is a controversial idea coming from a man dubbed by many as a ‘naturalist’. But it shows that focus on particular practices and producer philosophies is far more important than adherence to perceived standards for ‘natural wine’.

Texture and Purity

This wine is both typical and atypical Puligny-Montrachet. The flavours are what you expect for a cooler sited Cote d’Or Chardonnay: nuts, citrus, minerals. The character is dignified and more elegant than what you find in Meursault.

There is far greater drinkability in Pacalet’s wine than any other white Burgundy I’ve had at this age. It is already fully open and expressive and, most unusually, it bears a textural softness that I’ve never encountered in white Burgundy before.

This softness is something I’ve noticed with many wines that see very little sulphur, and I think it is one of the hallmarks of great ‘naturalist’ wine. Here, combined with the incredible purity and distinction of fruit at a level of quality far above most, and bearing the subtle gradations and expressions of Burgundian terrain, the wine’s textural quality makes it the most complete 2009 white Burg I’ve had, and one of the most exciting wines of this spotlight.

I’m not sure what this approach says about Puligny-Montrachet, but it does say something about the value of shaking things up in a land where tradition is the ultimate trump card.

~$120 at Kits Wine


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