OK. This is your question of the day? Or do you even care? Maybe you don’t have a clue about either Premox or Botox. I guess if you are a hard core White Burgundy aficionado you may have been totally immersed in the issue of Premox. And, I guess if you are getting older and looking for the fountain of youth you may know something about Botox. But, if you don’t care about either one, you can stop reading. In fact, if all you care about is Botox you can stop reading too. And, if you are totally obsessed about Premox you need to get a new life! Now, having said that, if there is anyone left still reading this, let me explain why I put these two strange bed fellows together.
You see Premox is the name attributed to the condition of premature oxidation in White Burgundy. Botox is the name of a drug that is designed to prevent aging. So maybe Premox needs Botox? Well not exactly. You see finding the cause for Premox is taking a long time. And, regaining youth is elusive, witness the Botox results. In fact, because Premox has continued for so long in a rather unpredictable fashion, it has created a sort of mini hysteria. Some people think if a White Burgundy turns gold in color before 10 years of age it is headed for the crematorium. Wrong! In fact, great old White Burgundy is always gold. It’s just a question of how long it takes to get there. And, some White Burgundies are darker in color than others. It is the golden, honied wine of Montrachet that only attains this status after years of bottle age. And, with this color comes the evolution of the wine in something more integrated and complex. But, there is no question that the White Burgundies of some producers are plagued by Premox. These wines forgo the pre-puberty stage and jump right into the hyper hormone teenage years for only a momentary pause with no stops before the convalescent home. But, thankfully not everything is impacted. The person that I think has done the most to track Premox is Don Cornwell, a Los Angeles attorney, Burgundy aficionado, and wine blogger For the last several years, he has assembled a group of people to put in selected bottles of White Burgundies from a specific vintage for tasting. This year it is the 2004s. He has also solicited comments from others and has produced a list in five categories from the most frequent Premox producers (category 1) to the least frequent Premox producers (category 5). There are also a few listed where no Premox has been encountered, but the entire listing, while extensive, does not represent all White Burgundy producers. The large majority of those not mentioned have either not been plagued by Premox or it may be that they just haven’t been tasted and reported. The list is helpful, but should not be considered as definitive because of two reasons: (1) the definition of Premox is somewhat subjective and may vary from person to person and (2) not all bottles of the same wine may be Premox. However, if there is a wine on the list that you own you should open a bottle to see if it is Premox or not ( To see the list of producers most plagued by Premox click here . Here you can also click on a list of producers and see what wines have been reported as oxidized.)
The Premox malady seems to have appeared in significant numbers beginning with the 1995 vintage, but was not known until several years there after. Since then it has appeared to different degrees in every vintage up to 2004. So what is the cause? Good question. One has to do with intentional changes that may have been done in the winemaking process to “enhance” the wines to make them richer from the outset. This is widespread in New World Chardonnay wines (the great majority of which do not age well) and may have spread to Burgundy. If this is the case, how sad it is for White Burgundy. For me, White Burgundy is the greatest dry white wine on planet earth with a historical reputation for longevity. The vignerons who are privileged to own the greatest plots of land for growing the noble Chardonnay grape are to be forever condemned if they are, in fact, using gimmicks to “enhance” the wines and satisfy the instant gratification palates of some consumers and critics. And, moreover, the fact is, if you want big, super ripe, oaky Chardonnay, the new world gives you lots of options. But if you want finesse, complexity, and a wine that blossoms from infancy to childhood, and then into a wonderful plateau of maturity, then White Burgundy, made by those who value the hundreds of years that have gone into making this noble wine, is for you.
The second possible cause involves things that may have been unintentional. Again, what are those you might ask? That’s a difficult one because it a multi-faceted issue. There are all kinds of theories out there as to why some White Burgundies are going from the crib to the cemetery in short order. Without getting technical (I hate technical anyway), here are a few of the most often mentioned culprits: corks, bottles, winemaking practices, vineyard practices, use of too little sulphur, and the type of equipment used. And, because it is a multi-faceted problem, it has proved elusive to solve. In some places it it may be one thing and in other places another. And, again how much might be intentional and how much is accidental is an unknown.
OK, it is probable that some things affected some producers and other things other producers. Maybe it is one or maybe it is more than one or maybe it is all of them. But, whatever the cause, Premox has created an interesting side effect. That is the reaction I mentioned earlier of a lot of White Burgundy aficionados who have developed a hair trigger when it comes to calling it Premox. Some think if the wine is gold it is Premox. So let me explain a bit more. A gold color is not Premox. Premox is a gold color very early in maturation followed by a loss of perfume and complexity in the nose and a certain flatness on the palate. It is not the color so much as it is the changes in the smell and the taste of the wine. It is the changes in the smell and taste that destroy the chance for the wine to age and develop more complexity, more honied qualities and an integration of all the elements of the wine. This is Premox. At this stage the wines need to be consumed. The next stage in the aging process is a loss of fruit, oxidized flavors on the nose and palate (sherry-like nuances) and a definite lack of fruit. The last stage is a browning in the color and completely oxidized smells and flavors. These latter qualities are not good. These last two are the late stages of the aging process in all white wines. The difference with Premox wines is that the late stages of the aging process just come a lot sooner and skip entirely the great period where the wine goes from youthful fruit to something more complex.
However, as mentioned earlier, not all bottles of a particular wine are necessarily Premox. It can be a random condition with some bottles showing Premox and others not. My prima facie evidence of this is a case of 2006 Anglada-Deleger Chassagne Montrachet Blanchots -Dessus 1er Cru. Blanchots-Dessus is a great vineyard situated next to Montrachet and Criots Batard Montrachet. Many years ago, what is now a vineyard was a low spot that over the years filled with rock and rubble falling from higher on the mountain. As a result, the vines are deeply rooted in rock with little clay and produce wine with depth and minerality. For me, it is one of the greatest 1er Crus along with others such as Les Ruchottes, Les Caillerets, Clos de la Mouchère, La Romanée, etc. I purchased the case of 2006 Anglada-Deleger Chassagne Montrachet Blanchots -Dessus 1er Cru on release, and as is my custom, immediately laid it away before opening a bottle. In late 2010, I opened the first bottle from the case. I was aghast. It was definitely Premox and almost gone. Dark gold, very flat and lacking fruit. I opened another bottle and it was better, but still showing a lot of age. So I opened a third bottle, it was perfect! A gorgeous wine with a light yellow gold color, a great perfume and exquisite balance and taste. Over the course of the next year, I opened 8 more bottles. Like the first 3 they varied all over the spectrum from no Premox to advanced Premox. There was one bottle left and I opened it in early January of this year. It was a really gorgeous wine. I rest my case. There is really no way to know if a bottle is Premox unless you open the bottle. Of course if you wait too long the color will start to turn brown and then you will know, but, of course, by then it is too late. And, just to complicate things further, often in the same wine it shows up in bottles, but not in magnums. However, even in the Premox wines, drinking them in the first few years of their accelerated maturity still makes for a pleasant, if not great, drinking experience. The problem is that a lot of people in their obsessive fear of having a “bad experience” are throwing the baby out with the bath water and drinking everything very young. This despite the fact that Premox is not rampant everywhere. So it has turned into a game of one winedrinker’s premox is another winedrinker’s botox. That is to say, some want only to stay young, while others want to enjoy the full cycle to maturity and take the risk of premature aging.
Fortunately, for many years now there has been a lot of light shed on the subject of Premox. The producers impacted by Premox have gotten the message and are changing their ways. In fact, as I have reported in my recent Burgundy article, some are changing the shape of the bottle, some are changing the corks, and others are reverting back to more traditional winemaking methods. Some have gone as far as to say that Premox is behind them. (To read my most recent Burgundy article click here ). It is my hope and belief that there is a widespread effort to eradicate the causes of Premox. If I am wrong, the future for White Burgundy is very suspect.
Great White Burgundy needs time in the bottle to fully develop. I would say 5-10 years at a minimum and even longer for many of the greatest ones. In my cellar and the cellars of my friends, White Burgundies from the 70s, 80s, and early 90s are gorgeous now. I have always preferred my White Burgundies with at least a decade or two of age. Obviously White Burgundy can also be enjoyed young, but not with a short window of life designed to make them age prematurely. Premox turns the game of buying and drinking White Burgundies from producers plagued by a high incidence of Premox into a game of Russian Roulette. Shoot, I have never liked that game! As a result, I, like a lot of others, have turned to buying the White Burgundies that historically have aged well and continue to do so and avoid those that have had a recent high incidence of Premox. I have made my decisions based on what I have tasted, although they do include many, but not all, of the ones on the list assembled by Don Cornwell that I referred to earlier. However, the things that might have been initiated to enhance the early appeal of White Burgundies, I continue to believe, are in their waning stages. Some White Burgundy producers may have had the same flirt with instant gratification that some Red Burgundy producers had years ago with the Guy Accad process. It was this radical change that turned some potentially great Red Burgundies into short lived blue/purple fruit bombs. Enough is enough. All right already. I really believe that we are in the late innings of the Premox plague no matter the cause. White Burgundy producers have spent 15 years working on the problem. They have examined everything that has been done in the wine making and wine growing process to make sure that their wines will age gracefully as they have in the past. That, combined with the identification and solution of problems with the bottles and corks, should mean that the wines from recent vintages should increasingly take us back to where we were in the pre-1995 era and the list of serial Premox producers will disappear. And, as this happens, all lovers of great White Burgundy should rejoice! Vamos a Ver!
In Vino Veritas,