The Sea in Chablis and the Tragedy of Premox in William Fevre #Winophiles

Chablis and the sea in the barrel room at Cantara Cellars in Camarillo

Premox– premature oxidization.

That was the explanation I was given for what I was tasting.

It was late March at a small birthday gathering for a wine maker friend, Bruce Freeman of Clos Des Amis, where his nephew, a wine collector, brought three special, older bottles of Chablis to share. Unfortunately, each one was a bit…. off. They tasted really odd. Old. Really old. Worn out. Spent.

When someone hands me a glass of wine and asks me to taste it, and share what I think, it’s always a loaded question. Clearly they wouldn’t ask if they didn’t already know that I write about wine, and they may also know that I’m on the US Blind Wine Tasting Team.

I’m usually game, and I’m usually kind. I could be tasting a wine this person made, or a favorite wine, something expensive or cheap… I never know, so I try to be honest, yet generous, and open minded.

I already knew that there were some special wines around, so when I was offered a pour, I said sure, and ever hopeful, sniffed, swirled, and swirled some more, then sipped. Hmmm. What to say? It perplexed me, smelled a bit off, old, oxidized; it didn’t taste that great, and yet this was clearly a “special” wine. I was pretty sure it was chardonnay, very very old chardonnay. But something wasn’t right. It tasted “old” all right, but old wines should be interesting and complex, and this was past its prime, it was oxidized. I wanted to like it, but really I just wanted more of the Clos des Amis chardonnay.

Turned out that this wine that tasted “old” was prematurely oxidized and not a fluke. In fact, there were plenty more like it. Unfortunately, you didn’t know until you opened a bottle in a case to discover whether it would be any good or not. Of the three bottles we opened that day, from three different cases, all three suffered from premox. 

In fact, the collector told me, he was tempted just to drain the lot. Too many disappointing bottles. And it wasn’t just his wines that had this problem — it plagued wines from Burgundy from the mid-90s on.

Always the altruist, I offered to help him open and seek out the bottles that were good. And I got Bruce and Gretel to commit to the task. With the May Winophiles focus on Chablis, I knew when I wanted to do it also.  While we couldn’t coordinate our schedules by the Winophiles deadline, Mark stopped by Cantara Cellars in Camarillo to drop off two bottles for us to try. Gretel picked up an affordable Chablis at the Westlake Costco, and as a back up, I brought a bottle of white Burgundy.  

But before we get to our tastings, and our results, what exactly is premature oxidization and what causes it?

Flawless

I’d hoped to learn about premox at a recent webinar with Jamie Goode, author of Flawless: Understanding Faults in Wine. However, his focus in that session was on cork taint– not so relevant! Instead I turned to Google, Wikipedia, and more:

“Premature oxidation, (sometimes shortened to premox, or POx) is a flaw that occurs in white wines, when the presumably ageworthy wine is expected to be in good condition yet is found to be oxidised and often undrinkable,” explains Wikipedia. “In particular the affliction has received attention in connection to incidents of whites produced in Burgundy.[1][2 “

“The big problem facing white Burgundy over recent years has been premature oxidation (known as PremOx),” writes Jamie Goode on his blog in 2016. “After a few years of cellaring, within the same case some of the bottles might be drinking perfectly, while others will be oxidised.”

This is exactly the situation in the circumstance of Bruce’s wine collecting nephew!

“There’s been a lot of discussion about its cause(s), but it’s clear that one of the contributors is the cork,” continues Jamie Goode in his blog post. “While the wines seem to have become more fragile, it is the variation in cork that shows this fragility up. A more consistent closure with very low oxygen transmission might make PremOx rarer, even if it can’t deal with the underlying causes (which still aren’t completely clear).”

  • Clive Coates, MW agrees as cited in Wikipedia: “Poorly-performing corks are the main culprits behind prematurely aged white Burgundy.”[3]
  • Pierre Rovani of The Wine Advocate disagrees, writing that “corks are not the issue”[2]   while Allen Meadows speculates that the problems with corks as been “exacerbated by generally lower levels of SO2.”
  • In yet another opinion, Steve Tanzer suggests that in addition to corks, global warming has allowed fruit to ripen, plus excessive stirring of the lees, and insufficient use of sulfur dioxide.[2]
  • Another theory by Denis Dubourdieu and Valérie Lavigne-Cruege posits that a reduction in herbicides has led to more grass which is competing with the vines and stressing them out  leading to “insufficient quantities of glutathione, a compound that functions as an essential antioxidant during the fermentation process.[1]”

Roger Boulton, professor of UC Davis, says looking for a single answer is missing the bus[5]

Read more in Jamie Goode’s 2006 analysis in The World of Fine Wine.

There’s certainly a lot more to explore about this topic, and I hope that Bruce, Gretel and I will be able to try again to see if any of the wines in the collection are worth drinking… I’m also going to get Jamie Goode’s 2018 book!

 

CHABLIS

Menu

  • Oysters
  • Pate
  • Potato Chips 
  • Brie
  • Pear
  • Goat cheese (blue)
  • Goat cheese ??
  • Green Olives 
  • Cesar salad
  • Rustic Loaf  

Wines 

  • 2002 Domaine William Fevre Grand Cru
  • 2004 Domaine William Fevre Grand Cru 
  • 2019 Joseph Drouhin Chablis 
  • 2013 Pernand Vergelesses Clos Berthet Premier Cru

Chablis

2002 Domaine William Fevre Grand Cru
ABV 13% 
SRP $$$

I’ve written about an affordable Fevre wine here; hopefully I’ll get another chance to taste some wines that are worth writing more about!

Color: Golden, buttercup,

Aroma: Oxidized, smells like sherry, hint of lemon

Palate: While this wine was treated and stored very well, it and many others from this period suffer from premature oxidization. There is still a bit of character. Sue could not wait to get this out of her glass, but personally I thought I would not dump this wine, I would give it a chance with different cuisines. In the end, we decided to dump because as it was open longer it just got worse and worse. The finish is a bit off putting for my digestion. Hints of lemon and what could have been.

Pairing: Possibly chicken marsala, foods with that type of flavor profile, rich food cooked with Madera, or port. However, we didn’t attempt to pair the wine. Because of the oxidation, we sadly dumped it.

2004 Domaine William Fevre Grand Cru
ABV 13% 
SRP $$$

Color: Golden, buttercup

Aroma: Honeycomb, brioche, yeast, almost like a champagne nose, artichoke, asparagus, an odd herbal characteristic, calendula, pollen. Part of the finish is gracious and quite nice, but part of the finish is harsh, and upsets my digestion. The wine is disconnected, the beauty and finesse of the wine has been blown overboard. What should be tart and luscious is over acidic. What should be a lovely brioche has gone too far. 

Palate: This wine does not have as much oxidization, it is very tart and lemony. Sue wanted the bubbles, and perhaps if it was sparkling it would work.

Pairing: We didn’t pair the wine. Because of the oxidation, we dumped it. So sad!

Drouhin Chablis

2019 Joseph Drouhin Chablis
ABV 12.5%
SRP $25
Gretel purchased at Costco in Westlake Village, CA for $13.

Color: Pale lemon

Aroma: Lemon, green apple, flint, grass, sea grass, sea salt, lemon blossom, the nose is lovely and keeps you wanting to come back for more. 

Palate: Tart acidic, clean refreshing, stone, steel, lemon, nice round mouthfeel, lingers just enough so you are not overwhelmed by the acidity. There isn’t tons of complexity, but enough to keep you interested. 

Pairing: Almost any kind of seafood could pair with this.  Lovely with the Ceasar salad, amazing with oysters bringing out peach notes. 

Premier Cru

2013 Domaine Dubreuil-Fontaine Pernand-Vergelesses Clos Berthet Premier Cru
ABV 13% 
SRP $50

I purchased this wine at WineHouse LA a few years ago and I brought this Chardonnay from Cote de Beaune, Cote d’Or, Burgundy, France just in case the wines that Mark contributed were prematurely oxidized… which they were. We decided to open the wine to compare with the Chablis from Costco as well as other Chardonnay we planned to open that night.

These Chardonnay grapes are over 30 years old and were harvested and sorted by hand, made traditionally in oak casks with stirring of the lees, and aged in 25% new oak. From this one hectare, 5300 bottles were produced.

Color: Sun yellow, happy yellow, daffodil

Aroma: Honeysuckle, bee pollen, nice rich nose, as the wine opens there is a bit of nutmeg and cardamon, sandalwood, apple, pineapple, tropical fruit, English muffin with marmalade, 

Palate: The acidity is there on the tip of the tongue, but is is mellow, the flavor sticks to the palate, there is a very lingering finish that hangs out on the roof of my mouth. 

Pairing: Fantastic with the oyster OMG, so great bringing out melon notes. Loves the creamy Delice on fresh bread, this wine loves food. I was happy with the salad. The wine brings out Christmas spices in the pate; pate and brie on bread is heavenly.

Thank you to Mike and Chris Brown at Cantara Cellars for hosting our tasting in their barrel room!

For more Chablis and Burgundy here on Wine Predator, see

For articles by the French Winophiles, check out: 

You’re invited to join our twitter chat Sat. May 15 at 8am Pacific or just follow the hashtag #winophiles as we discuss the following topics:

  • 11am ET: Welcome to the French #Winophiles chat for #PureChablis fans. Share a selfie, say hi, introduce your blog. Tag @PureChablis on Twitter. 
  • 11:05am ET: In five words, describe your #Winophiles tasting experience this month with wines from France’s Chablis region in Bourgogne. (Don’t forget to share your post!)
  • 11:10am ET: Have you visited #PureChablis, #Winophiles? Tell us a fun fact about the trip or if you haven’t gone yet, is Chablis on your bucket list? (We crave travel pics!)
  • 11:15am ET: The appellation Chablis represents 66% of #PureChablis wines. There are three other appellations: Petit Chablis, 1er Cru Chablis, and Grand Cru Chablis. #Winophiles, which did you taste
  • 11:20am ET: #PureChablis wines are dry and known for purity, crispness, sophistication, and minerality. Share some of your tasting notes here. Share a bottle shot!
  • 11:25am ET: What did you learn about the producer behind your bottles of #PureChablis? #Winophiles? (PS, you can search for producers here: https://bit.ly/3b67AEK)
  • 11:30am ET: Did you prepare something to eat with your #PureChablis? #Winophiles, share tidbits about the pairing, a pic, and a link to the recipe if you have one.
  • 11:35am ET: #PureChablis is grown on a subsoil called Kimmeridgian— from an age around 150 million years ago — lending to purity and minerality. What else did you learn about this terroir, #Winophiles?
  • 11:40am ET: The earliest mention of the word “Climat” in the Chablis winegrowing region is from 1537, referring to Chablis vines belonging to the Abbey of Pontigny. #Winophiles, what did you learn about #PureChablis history
  • 11:45am ET: In your opinion, why does #PureChablis stand out from Chardonnay from elsewhere in Bourgogne or around the world? #Winophiles, what makes it unique?
  • 11:50am ET: Tell us about a #PureChablis surprise. What is one amazing fact that you didn’t know, #Winophiles?
  • 11:55am ET: Thank you to #PureChablis for providing samples for some of our group and for being a part of this special event. And thanks to all of the #Winophiles participants!
  • 12:00PM ET: Join Lynn from @savortheharvest in June as she hosts the #Winophiles discovery of Maury (in Roussillon). Dramatic in many ways!

 

14 thoughts on “The Sea in Chablis and the Tragedy of Premox in William Fevre #Winophiles

  1. I had read just a bit on Premox and appreciate you explaining it so well, as I have been curious.
    So perhaps Bourgogne whites need to go to Stelvin screw caps that could give more precise uniformity to allowing oxygen in. Hmm…do you see that ever happening?

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is definitely something they are considering and which they did in AUS to deal with this problem! However, there has been SO MUCH progress with addressing TCA in cork that I think they will manage it. It’s not something that is being discussed as much in more recent vintages so hopefully it’s a done deal!

      Like

  2. Thanks for the deep dive into Premox — very useful to have more info, even if the causes aren’t fully known yet. As it happens I also looked at at Drouhin Vaudon Chablis this month too — it’s useful to have a comparison to a younger vintage.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Had a Drouhin Chablis 2017 this evening. Cost $12 at Costco. Was sufficiently concerned about a mild corked taste that I Googled it and ended up here. Maybe the low price for some bottles this age was a cause for concern!

    Liked by 1 person

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