The Epicurean's Atlas: Coche-Dury Meursault-Perrières Premier Cru 1999
Region: Côte de Beaune, Burgundy | Variety: Chardonnay
“Whites are returned to cask for a second winter to await their turn to go into bottle, cask by cask in April”
M eursault was not blessed with any Grands Crus when those jewels were handed out in the 1930s but Burgundy lovers around the world would be almost unanimous in suggesting that, if Meursault were to have a Grand Cru, it should be Perrières. Many believe that the higher classification is deserved: Perrières has the additional merit, often cited as a characteristic of a Grand Cru, of being good every year, not just in the great vintages. This fabulous vineyard also enjoys the complexities of multiple mini sites: Aux Perrières, Les Perrières Dessus, Les Perrières Dessous and Clos des Perrières. The connecting factor is the high proportion of stones throughout Perrières, as the name might seem to suggest (pierre means rock), although in fact the derivation of Perrières is not “little stones” but a reference to a former quarry here, dating back centuries to a time when limestone was needed to build the houses in the village. Perfect east–southeast exposure also contributes to the excellence of the wines from Les Perrières.
Dr Lavalle, the expert 19th-century author of the first book about Burgundy to make a concerted effort to classify the vineyards, picked out Perrières as being the best white wine vineyard after the Montrachets, classing it as a rare tête de cuvée. There might indeed be a case for now promoting Les Perrières, but better perhaps to remain as the outstanding Premier Cru in Meursault, which it certainly is. Among its peers, only Charmes and Genevrières come close, and Perrières seems to combine their best attributes – all the minerality of Genevrières, while the rounded appeal of Charmes shows here with greater power. Perrières is certainly the weightiest of the Meursault vineyards and it should be the longest-lived.
Many of the top producers in Meursault are thrilled to have a holding in Perrières. Jean-François Coche-Dury is fortunate enough to have two: one in the upper part known as Les Perrières Dessus and one in a central section, which goes under the name of Aux Perrières. Together they make up 0.6 hectares, which puts Domaine Coche-Dury inside the top 10 owners by size – and of course the domaine is at the very top of the tree as far as quality is concerned. This rating is not the gift of history but a tribute to the exceptional skills of a particular vigneron, who took over a small and unfashionable producer in the late 1970s – which was a time when very few individual estates had worldwide renown.
How did this happen? What is it that makes a cult domaine? Domaine Coche-Dury is arguably the most internationally sought-after of all white Burgundy producers. You might expect to be able to put a finger on why the wines are so good. Are the yields low? Not exceptionally. Is there some wizardry during the vinification or élevage, as the wines are matured in the cellar? Good question, but specific techniques are not really the issue here: sometimes I think it is just that Jean-François Coche-Dury has the green fingers of a natural gardener or, in this case, vigneron.
The domaine is not at the forefront of modern trends – I can see the horror on Jean-François’ face if anyone were to suggest that might be the case. The viticulture is neither organic nor biodynamic and the wines receive their requisite dose of sulphur. The key though is the meticulous nature of how Jean-François and, more recently, Raphaël Coche-Dury work in their vines and in the cellar.
Vines are firmly crushed before pressing, using an old-style hydraulic Vaslin press, which must be a factor in the Coche-Dury style. They are fermented and matured in barrels using a relatively low percentage of new wood, no more than 25%, except for the very top wines. Whites are racked in July, when the barrels of a given cuvée are blended, then returned to cask for a second winter to await their turn to go into bottle, cask by cask in April of their second year.
I have not been fortunate enough to taste the 1999 Meursault Perrières from Coche-Dury recently, although both his village Meursault and Corton-Charlemagne have provided stunning bottles. Early in 2023, however, I was served the 2011 Meursault Perrières – blind – and found it to be sublime. “One sniff and we are transported to vinous heaven,” I wrote on my website. “A startlingly fine bouquet with an ideal degree of gunflint reduction, steely rather than struck match. Underneath this electric exterior lurks a wine with a superb concentration of pure fruit, a tensile strength, which is even more exceptional in a vintage with a modest reputation. Even after many minutes in the glass the wine never wavered. Certainly, the white wine of the night, a real privilege to drink it.”
Extrapolate from that gorgeous 2011 bottle to the much finer 1999 vintage, a year when quality and quantity combined to excellent effect. The weather in September was close to ideal, with picking beginning in the middle of the month, which fits the classic timescale in Burgundy. Those growers who paid careful attention to how the grapes were ripening started as soon as they were allowed to, especially in the Côte de Beaune where the early, even flowering paid off with early, even ripening. For white wines, 1999 was an extremely attractive vintage, one in which those producers who typically keep their yields below those of their neighbours made sublime wines capable of ageing well.
All this means that we find, united in this bottle, the finest vineyard in Meursault, one of the three great villages to make white Burgundy; the exceptionally talented Jean-François Coche-Dury, who is the absolute leader of Perrières winemakers; and a beautiful vintage for white Burgundy, now after almost a quarter of a century ripe enough to reveal all its splendours. What a privilege to come across such a wine.