December 8, 2011

The Plight of Premox in White Burgundy

Without even knowing to what it refers, you can almost tell, just from the sound of it, that it's not a good thing. Premox, in wine nomenclature, is short for premature oxidation, a problem that has been manifesting itself in the Chardonnay wines from Burgundy. Premox was first noticed in 2004 as bottles from the mid-to-late 90s began showing signs. It appears that wines bottled prior to 1995 are not effected by the problem.

Chardonnay, from the best vineyards and producers in Burgundy, should age effortlessly for 10, 15,or even 20+ years. When they do age well, they can transform into truly sublime wines, like the 2000 D'Auvenay Bize-Leroy Puligny Montrachet en la Richarde, one of the greatest white wines I've ever tasted (thanks, Rowdy).
However, when a wine is effected premox, what you get is an insipid, tired white wine that often looks and tastes something like Sherry. My personal recent examples of this plague were the 2001 Louis Jadot Meursault Les Perrieres pictured above, and the 2000 Maison Leroy Montagny 1er Blanc pictured below. Both wines showed a deep gold, turning to tan color, and a lifeless, flat taste on the palate.
What is perhaps most frustrating about the plight of premox is that many producers in Burgundy have turned a deaf ear to the problem. What is frustrating for consumers is that many of these great wines are not $25 wines. Imagine spending $100 on a special bottle of Burgundy only to have to dump it down the drain with no recourse. You can't return, you can't exchange it, you simply have to feed it to the garbage disposal. Over time, that is a costly and frustrating problem.

Burgundy scholars such as Allen Meadows and Clive Coates, have all weighed in on the possible reasons. Theories as to the cause of premox propose everything from faulty corks and low levels of Sulphur Dioxide to overripe fruit as a result of global warming. There is even an Oxidised-Burgs wiki devoted to tracking the problem by vintage and producer. 

You would think with the risk involved in opening a cherished (and expensive) bottle of white Burgundy only to find it oxidized, many fans of white Burgs would simply give up. Some have, some persevere, despite the gamble. Don Corwell's oxidised Burgundy wiki referenced above has a frequently updated list of producers that have been most and least affected with oxidized bottles. If you are going to take the risk of buying white Burgundy, it is worth the effort to do some research to try to lower the odds that you will lose the high-stakes premox gamble.

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