Ladybug Taint Not So Lady-like

Is anyone else out there half as annoyed as I am about 2004 vintage Burgundies? I was lucky enough not to have bought many of them before the problems became apparent, but most of the red wines I’ve tasted have been dreadfully tainted.

It was the year of the ladybug (coccinella) invasion, and if you’re interested you can read a great deal about this on the internet by googling Burgundy and ladybug taint. Apparently, few red wines avoided the plague – millions of ladybugs swarmed on the grapes at harvest time and could not be entirely prevented from getting into the fermenters.

Reds suffered more than whites simply because reds are fermented with their skins and whatever other solids go along for the ride. But the last few whites I’ve seen have been prematurely oxidized, suggesting they may also have issues. In one week, I poured a grossly oxidized Lucien Lemoine Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot 1er cru down the drain, and an almost as bad Maison Faiveley (tastings) Corton Charlemagne grand cru. Expensive wines. What a waste of money.

I haven’t kept a complete record of the spoilt reds to come my way, but in the same week as the above whites, there was a pretty nasty La Forge de Tart Morey-St-Denis 1er cru (red) (tasting), which is the second label of Clos de Tart.

The ladybug taint is a methoxypyrazine: the dusty, bell-pepper, vegetal odour of unripe grapes. Descriptors such as peanut and leather have also been used. It can be extremely unpleasant, with a peculiar acrid edge. It affects the palate as well as the nose and robs the wine of fruit and flavour. And the taint seems to get worse with time in the bottle, not better.

A search of the database for 2004 Burgundy reveals mercifully few wines, but a generally sad story. Within the past year, showing degrees of the same taint, were an Etienne Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet Champs Canet 1er cru (tasting) and a Domaine Comte Georges de Vogue Chambolle-Musigny 1er cru (tasting). One that sticks in the memory for all the wrong reasons was a Faiveley (again) Latricieres-Chambertin. It had brett as well as ladybug taint. Truly horrid.

Why did Burgundy winemakers sell these expensive but often undrinkable wines to the unsuspecting public? I have read and heard a few saying they were not aware of the problem at the time the wines were marketed. The problem only became obvious after bottling. Possibly true.

Now some commentators are saying the 2011 vintage has been hit by ladybug taint as well. So far, I have little experience of this, but suggest proceeding with caution. “Try before you buy” is always my mantra. 

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