What, in your mind, makes a burgundy "modern?"

In Piedmont, I feel I have a good handle on what makes a Nebbiolo modern in style. There, modern wines tend to be more approachable young, fruit driven, even international in style. The use of roto-fermenters, shorter maceration times, and new oak and smaller barrels all contribute. Yes, there is much controversy about the specifics, but I feel I understand what people mean when they say a Nebb is modern.

Not so with burgundy. Yesterday, I had a Jouan with Tom Blach which he described as traditional. This was right after an older Faiveley, which I would have thought was traditional. But one was light and delicate, the other dark and brooding; they couldn’t be more different.

What are the sensory characteristics of a modern burg versus a traditional version? Is concentration/extraction the key difference? Secondly, what winemaking decisions provide these sensory differences?


Did you catch which Jouan? The two producers are very different from each other.

Regarding “modern/traditional” I think it is a very imprecise term because styles have changes a number of times over time. Alot of people use “traditional” to describe the high-extraction of structure techniques of producers like Lafarge, Gouges, Montille, etc but this style seems to have originated in the early 20th century with the advent of domaines bottling their own wine. If you go back far enough people were wanted their red burgundy almost rose like (Oeil de perdrix) with white grapes cofermented with red grapes. Maybe that is truly traditional red burgundy. Maybe traditional is the post-war era where they used high production clones and fertalizers and the wines were much thinner than they are now.

All that said, for me what I don’t like in burgundy is the vanilla-tinged glossy oaked wines the soak forever with enzymes. If I had to call anything modern, it would be that.

It is interesting that Meadows call RSV a “modern” wine because of the sophistciated tannins.

Berry, it was 2008 Henri Jouan Chambolle Musigny. I am a recent fan and bought a few Jouan bottles while in Burgundy.

Thanks for your thoughts regarding modernism in burgundy.

A producer I would not put in any “modern” category however it is defined. If I had to put Henri and his son in any category I would say he is a hold-over from the post-war era. I get the feeling that he doesnt make much an effort to extract much from the grapes or reduce yeilds too much in the vineyards so the wines are “light” by modern standards. Also there isnt alot of new oak (any?) in the cellar. I think Truchot was in that category too.

Very much what I look for in Burgundy. I wish there were more producers in that style but reviewers (including Meadows) and many Burgundy drinkers equate quality with concentration/richness (not exclusively obviously) so it is a finacial risk to make wine like that. Jouan sells alot of wine to a negociant (Drouhin) so he is freed somewhat from the financial pressure of making richer wines.

While clearly not modern, its also too reductionistic to call him tranditional. It isn’t binary or linear on a 2d graph.

Difficult to be precise about it.

If a producer changes his style recently, he is called modern, although the style he now emulates could be in place and embraced by traditional producers for some time. So wines that lack rusticity now could be called modern.

Higher use of oak than needed, more driven by fruit flavors than structure. A clean and polished feel without complexity. A sense that the wine hides its origins and could be from many good Pinot regions vs from Savigny, etc.

Some or all of those are red flags. This is why, as much as I champion blind tasting, it’s important to know what you’re evaluating. I can imagine cases where I taste a wine that pushes many of those buttons, but which I know from past experience turns out to be an exemplar of its terroir and of Burgundy in general.

Alright, of course with a title like this, I of course feel obliged to hop in. I hope no one is put off by my response. So, here goes:

We are in 2011. My opinion is that anything basically produced since 2001 is fairly modern.

There…said it. Who cares to argue? [cheers.gif]

Had to edit since my ‘humor’ seems to be too dry. I was just joking…not my strong suit

“Modern-styled” is the concept in question you semantic scoundrel [smileyvault-ban.gif]

Ah! Sorry, I am now fully confident that I grasp the context of the question posed. My response is clear and certain to cause a few ripples, perhaps a ban…

Any wine which rested in barrels produced after 2001?
[winner.gif] (?)

…Just kidding.

I will say a few words. So, reading these older books really does provide a bunch of context. To this point, there are so many things that we may cringe about and possibly judge as modern, though they may in fact be more ‘traditional’ than some of the things which we view to be relics in the process of wine production. Case in point, heating the must, or heating the bottles of already bottled wine. These were done in the 1860s and before in Burgundy. In fact, in Burgundy, there has been a great culture to not do what your neighbor is doing. Oddly enough, the neighbor is never wrong, but the producer himself is typically assured that they are doing thins the ‘right’ way. Also interesting, here in Burgundy, people have not been shy in testing new equipment. What is interesting is that it takes a Very long time for actual change to effect a large majority here. It happens faster in California, though this does not mean that Burgundy is traditional generally speaking and California is modern. The real answer is the typical answer, it is a combination of things, really.

Taking this to a personal and not theoretical level, I have viewed larger percentages of new oak to be what I call modern. This isn’t fair as there were a few wealthy individuals that always sold their wine at high prices and having a clean barrel was akin to a nice gift wrapping when selling by the queue (456L) or by 228L barrel. Is this really a stretch in some producers cases? I don’t know, but it is thought provoking. Extraction is another. Sure, the maceration times were MUCH shorted in the 16C-19C, but the yields were Very low as well (partially caused by inconsistent planting formations as well, but anyhow…) a lot of these wines were deep and dark. Alcohol in a ‘traditional Burgundy’…well, Lavalle (1855) and a few others cite some Volnay and others in the 14.7% range. (check the photo) Surely going back over 150 allows us to collectively figure this old enough to be called traditional. Mind you, numbers were ALL over the place then too…gotta love diversity!!

re-did the photo of the page…

Adding to that, there was even in those times people that regretted being too gentle on pigeage (punching down) or too tough. What I am getting at is that there has never been one right way to do things. Everyone has their own view and this is something which has historically been proven to be healthy while giving those that drink the wine choices to choose from. So, let’s keep the historical trend moving in the right direction and appreciate diversity, since it has and hopefully always will be a part of this culture.


I think the reason this is so complicated in Burgundy is that there are a few different kinds of “modern.” In a lot of wine regions the word “modern” tends to be used more-or-less interchangeably with the concepts of international-style or Parkerization - more concentration, more oak, more fruit sweetness, etc. And there are certainly modernist producers in Burgundy who have gone that route (e.g. Dugat, Perrot-Minot). But Parkerization/international-style isn’t the only modern aesthetic. One of the other things that modern consumers seek in wine is suppleness, finesse, elegance of texture. Old-style wines used to have to rely on long aging to achieve that (whether in cask or bottle). Modern technique lets producers achieve it in bottles just two years past the vintage date. Thus you have producers whose style is the polar opposite of the Dugats and Perrot-Minots of the world who could also be called modern - Fourrier comes immediately to mind, perhaps Pacalet is another example. These schools don’t really have much in common with each other besides the fact that neither one of them would have existed 100 years ago, so you could call them modern. Consequently, of course, a phrase like “modern-style Burgundy” in a tasting note without additional details doesn’t really tell you very much.

I called the Jouan ‘country’; while both the Faiveley and Mugnier wines had an urban sensibility, Clair’s Dominode 89 was somewhere in between. I must admit to being utterly entranced by the modest Jouan, to the point that I don’t want to draw to it undue attention.


That is one of the neatest things I have seen in quite some time. To think, 150+ years ago La Tache was rolling in at 14.2% abv and Richebourg at 13.9%. Hilarious! So much for a tradition of low alcohol!

Not to mention Volnay Chevret at nearly 15%. What wouldn’t I give to taste those wines as they were then?

The problem is that the instruments used to measure alcohol then were VERY inaccurate, so these figures are very dubious. This was the subject of several threads over on eBob some years back.

I’ve been eye-balling a set from the late 19th Century in Beaune for the last 4 months, perhaps I should give her a testing and compare? This might settle a few queries. Also, Lavalle mentioned these numbers came from the use of Gay-Lussac’s Law, everything tested at 15°C. No idea (yet) on how this differs from what some use today, though I will look into it.

As fascinating as this chart is, the real problem, of course, is that under the July Monarchy, Jean-Philippe and Francois Guizot passed legislation which allowed for a 1.5% leeway on published alcohols under 14% and a 1% leeway on published alcohols over 14%. Wineries claimed that the cost of changing the alcohols, from vintage to vintage, was too great but this was not believed. Little known, but when Marx moved to Paris in 1843 the first work the Engels shared with him was “The Actual Alcohol Levels of Burgundian Wines.” Marx, while outraged, convinced Engels that “The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844” was a better first release and the rest is history. – In 1846, La Presse (the French penny newspaper) was taken over in a coup and Frenchman Jon Bonne began publishing actual Burgundian alcohol levels, and organized the Campagne des Banquets – a series of political meetings where only Burgundies below 13.5% alcohol were served. The Government tried to outlaw these meetings, which led to the 1848 revolution.

Just a little history for those interested…

Adam Lee
Siduri Wines

Please do and report back!

I know someone in the earlier threads someone quoted Aubert de Villaine dismissing the figures for 19th century DRC wines as more or less meaningless because the readings weren’t at all reliable.

Any red Burg that I do not have to cellar until my labradoodles go to graduate school.