Albert Bichot: the art of ageing Hospices de Beaune fine wines
After the auction, bringing out the Hospices wines’ potential through the ageing process
The 50 wines sold at the Hospices auctions are very young, the harvesting and the vinification took place only a few weeks prior to the famous charity sale. They are therefore still far from having revealed all their secrets and potential! That is why, after the auction, it is essential, and indeed a legal obligation, to entrust the ageing of the purchased barrels to a professional, an expert with an impeccable reputation…a professional like Albert Bichot!
This period is known as the ‘élevage’ (‘raising’ or ageing of the wines), a key stage in Burgundy more than it is many other wine regions, because the wines are single varietals (Pinot Noir for the reds and Chardonnay for the whites) and come from very small plot of vines each with their own personality. Only a long and carefully measured 12 to 18 months’ ageing in oak barrels, respecting the terroirs and the vinification work, will enable all the nuances and complexities of the Hospices de Beaune or Hospices de Nuits-Saint-Georges fine wines to be expressed and appreciated.
Technical work, patience and savoir-faire in the heart of Beaune
Ageing is a crucial stage during which the wine is constantly monitored, every day. All the Hospices wines acquired by Albert Bichot are aged in a superb dedicated cellar lying under our Colbert winery (the name of the district in Beaune where it is located). In conditions of perfectly controlled humidity and under the guidance of Alain Serveau, our technical director,
Monthly tastings of each barrel, combined with detailed analyses in our laboratory, allow us to follow the development of each wine with precision. Date of the malolactic fermentation, choice of the barrels for ageing, optimum conditions and timing of the bottling to preserve the wine’s freshness…all these decisions will have an impact on the wine’s aromatic profile and its potential.
Beyond sharing the values of charity, our status as the auction’s top buyer for 20 years is, of course, also derived from the trust that our customers, wine lovers and wine trade professionals from around the world, put in us. It is also an important recognition of our great technical savoir-faire in the art of wine ageing.
We enter some of the Hospices wines that we have aged into prestigious competitions to obtain an independent evaluation of our work. We are very proud of the recognition and the comments received about a number of our fine wines in recent years… For example, the title of the best red wine in the world (Red Champion) obtained by our Mazis-Chambertin Grand Cru Madeleine Collignon des Hospices de Beaune 2016 at the International Wine Challenge in Spring 2018. Check out our other awards listed on this page.
The art of marrying the right wines with the right barrels: the heart of Albert Bichot’s savoir-faire
The Hospices wines are sold at auction in new oak barrels. They come from several coopers according to the specifications put together by Ludivine Griveau, the manager of the Hospices wine estate and purchased by tender. A few days after the auction, we will re-taste each barrel in the Hospices cellars as part of the ‘handover’ procedure between the Hospices and Albert Bichot.
Before the end of the year we will pick up the barrels in a small truck to transfer them to our cellar in the centre of Beaune. It is at this precise moment when the ageing of the wines under our management commences. The first, very important, decision is to select the barrels that will be used to age each wine, because we do not keep them in the new barrels (except a few, more powerful grands crus or for certain vintages). The reason is simple: new wood affects the character of the wine too much, imparting a strong oaky character which is not desirable.
Whether for our own wines or those from the Hospices, Albert Bichot pays very close attention to this marriage between a wine and its barrel, even if words cannot adequately describe the interaction between the wood and the wine during the ageing process. For example, some wines from a very sunny vintage such as the 2018 need softness and we will choose to age them in a barrel already used for 3 fills (i.e. 3 years old), of a particular origin (Vosges, Jura) and with a light toast. Other wines from a cooler or later harvest will need more support, so we will wrap them in the caress and patina of a younger barrel (e.g. previously used for 1 fill only) from a different forest (Tronçais, Centre Loire) and with a slightly stronger toast in order to bring the wine out. There are no set rules and no limits: it is all a question of dosage, precision, careful consideration, and basically, long experience.
Seeking complexity by using a variety of barrels for the same wine, i.e. how being the top buyer is a strategic asset
To take our high standards and this fascinating aspect of our craft even further, we can reveal another of our little secrets. As the main buyer with, for example, 161 barrels purchased in 2018, we often buy several barrels of the same wine. We could be content to mature all the wines in the same and very well chosen barrels. But we don’t! We take our quest for complexity even further, by dividing the same wine into several different barrels. For example, say, we have bought 5 barrels of a Corton Grand Cru, two of these will be aged in Barrel A (2 years old, Tronçais oak, medium toast) two others in Barrel B (3 years old, Allier oak, medium+ toast) and the last barrel in Barrel C (1 year old, Bertranges oak, medium- toast).
At the end of the ageing process, these 5 barrels will be blended together to create a wine with a unique personality, which of course comes from the Hospices terroir, but which has also been created by this unique, judicious mix of barrels. It is through this level of detail and involvement in the ageing process that one recognises the qualities of a great wine company, or a ‘grand éleveur’. This all requires considerable work every day, but this is the price Albert Bichot does not hesitate to pay to attain excellence for the Hospices wines.