The Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair is both ancient and modern: ancient because it was acquired by Louis Liger-Belair, Napoleonic General, in 1815; and modern in that it was re-launched by his successor Vicomte Louis-Michel Liger-Belair in 2000. Since 1827 the diamond in the crown of the estate has been the monopoly of La Romanée, one of the very few grand cru monopolies in Burgundy, and the smallest.
The free run wine and the press wine are then blended and left in vats to settle the lees, a process that takes close to ten days, before transferring the wines into barrel when they are as clear as possible, since the wines are rarely racked during the aging process. Clarification enzymes are used to hasten the process should the vintage require this step. The wines are put into barrel by gravity in the cellar.
The wines are aged in new oak: two different cooperages and three different forests. Malolactic fermentations begin naturally either before or after the first winter succeeding the harvest. The wines stay in barrel with the least number of rackings possible and with no additional sulphur until the racking preceding bottling.
This racking is done without pumping, the wines being pushed by air and blended (by appellation) in bottling vats, usually 13 to 15 months after harvest. The wines are then sulphured and left to rest for two to three months in tank. There is neither fining nor filtration before bottling.
Bottling is done by gravity with the help of a small bottling unit at the bottom of the tank. The bottles are corked with a corking machine enabling the air to be evacuated in the compression chamber. The corks are not placed in a large funnel but one by one in a column so that each cork can be verified so that the best end of the cork will come into contact with the wine.
The wines are then stocked in pallets and are shipped after at least two months of rest. Most of the wines leave the Domaine in wooden cases. Each bottle is wrapped in tissue paper and straw protectors (when authorized).
'We are beginning to get spoilt with all these fine vintages', said Lalou Bize in October 2011. 'We are very happy with our 2011s.' 'Much better than we had expected,' said Denis Bachelet. 'Lots of colour and fruit, together with good acidity and souplesse.'
Yes. It would appear that Burgundy has done it again. And if views are not quite as enthusiastic in Chablis and in the Côte Chalonnaise, at least in the Côte d'Or (and particularly in the Côte de Nuits) we have another big one to follow 2008, 2009, and 2010. Nature is smiling on the Burgundy lover.
Burgundy suffered the worst of its winter as early as the end of November/beginning of December. It was cold and grey, and there was quite a bit of snow. It continued cold but drier in January, but a little warmer in February and March, and then in April, just as in 2007, summer arrived with a bang. In temperatures which climbed into the low 30°s bud break started early and the devemopement of the shoots was rapid. One thing was already clear: barring catastrophe the harvest would be early. This fine weather continued into May.
June was pleasant enough, without being really warm, and July cool and wet. Even August, except for the occasional pair of days, lacked heat until the middle of the month. This came just when it was required, and while there were three days of wet weather just as the harvest was due to start in the Côte d'Or (August 24-26) these were the only periods of anxiety to worry the growers. September continued dry and warm, enabling the Hautes Côtes and other late pickers to finish their collection at their ease.
Of course rarely does a summer season go by without some hail damage somewhere in Burgundy. Rully has received the worst of it this year, being blitzed on the 8th of June, and then, and more seriously, on July 12th. Decimated is frequently an over-exaggerated term, but that is certainly what parts of the vignoble looked like. There were several frost attacks in Chablis in the spring, plus hail damage there too on 29th June, which has affected the size of the harvest in Fourchaume and neighbouring grands crus. Overall, it was wetter in Chablis that in the Côte d'Or – and it seems also to have been drier in the Côte de Nuits than the Côte de Beaune. Both these factors underlie the relative success of these three areas.
The white wine crop looks to be healthily-sized; if anything a little more plentiful than the average, growers talking about having produced 45 to 52 hectolitres per hectare in the Côte de Beaune. The fruit was healthy, pHs were around 3.10 - 3.15, and fermentations have been quite rapid. Some suggest slightly lower levels of alcohol than 2009 or 2010. Where red wines of equal reputation are made in the same cellar it seems that there is more satisfaction with the red wine results than with the white.
The red wines are even better in the Côte de Nuits. The crop is not large, there being less juice in the grapes than they promised, but this has led to added concentration. Alcohol levels are at a natural 11.5° - 12.5°, so the wines will not be too heavy. The colours are encouraging and there is plenty of fruit.
We need now (I wrote in November 2011) to wait patiently until the wines are tastable. Someone said to me long ago that you need to hold back and give the wines six weeks after the malos were complete before you can attack them with confidence. Only then, when the CO2 content has sunk to half, can you properly experience the mouth feel, the physical aspect of the wine.
One thing, though, is already clear. Two thousand and eleven Burgundy is a success.
Twelve months on, with the wines now well post malo and ready for tasting, what do we make of the 2011s? The whites are following a pattern which seems to have arisen in previous years: very pleasant, reasonably fresh, obligingly fruity, but without real backbone, depth and staying power. Drink them soon. Don't, I suggest, be prepared to spend the high prices today asked for premier cru Puligny unless you have tasted them first and are convinced they will be better in 2020 than 2015. Go for Rully instead.
The reds, lighter than the 2010s and less exotically rich than the 2009s, are delicious. They may not have enormous backbone, but there are many which have a delightful purity of Pinot fruit – and pure Pinot is one of the world's most seductive vinous aromas. They should not take too long to come round. But while delicious then, I do believe they will last, at least in the medium to long term. Yes, at least in red, 2011 is a success.
Prices are beginning to be released as I write. The high prices for the 2012s seen at the Hospices auction are bound to have its effect. But this seems to more evident among the already pricey, more fashionable wines and domaines. The polarization between simple (perhaps better rephrased as unpretentions) Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits grand and top premier cru is continuing. Many, particularly the white wine growers, have kept to their 2010 prices. More have raised their demands by five to eight percent, which means that British wine merchants can hold to last years prices, as the rate of exchange has improved. A few are increasing by 15 or even 20 percent as growers view the tiny amounts of 2012 in their cellars.
by Clive Coates MW: