Burgundy Vintage Report

Tasting a range of Burgundy 2010 this November was a real surprise. After the highly heralded 2009, some producers had been hinting that 2010 would be different but equally good! We had our doubts as winemakers do tend to praise their wines even in difficult vintages, but we were wrong to be suspicious, as the wines exceeded our wildest expectations. 

The whites have great balance, often a blend between 2007 and 2008 but perhaps a little richer; generally they have striking acidity with clean flavours often with notes of citrus fruit. The minerality is very apparent and some wines will definitely need a little time to soften and develop. 

The reds also benefit from great freshness and purity. We often noticed a hint of fresh spices and white pepper. They are naturally concentrated as the yields are very small. The alcohol level is fairly low and many producers had to chaptalise a little, but this helped them to prolong the alcoholic fermentation. Not as bold and rich as 2009, the 2010 vintage will prove to be a star amongst the classic vintages. 2010 is a perfect reminder of why we love Burgundy! 

The Domaines visited Bruno Colin. Beautifully chiselled whites with high balancing acidity, citrus and mineral notes. Chassagne Vergers intense with lime and great intensity. Need time. Morgeot is richer but still tight with firm and very fresh finish. The reds are still quite closed with the exception of the Bourgogne, already very attractive. Francois Carillon. Francois is getting more settled every year and the 2010 are a great success. The Puligny is already showing very well but the premiers crus are really exceptional. All time favourite the Puligny Perrieres has class and great length. Quite rich but perfectly balanced with the lovely acidity of the vintage. Very clean and classy. Surely the best wines made since the two brothers have split the Domaine. Domaine Pernot Belicard. Francois Carillon recommended Philippe Pernot to me. Philippe’s family owns the Domaine Paul Pernot but for the time being he’s looking after his wife’s vineyards. The Domaine Belicard used to sell all their wines to the négoce and Philippe started to bottle 2 years ago. The wines are already very impressive; he’s lucky to have vineyards in some top premier crus like Puligny Perrieres and Meursault Perrieres. Jean Philippe Fichet. I have been working with Jean Philippe for a long, long time and I have no problem to say that I believe that 2010 is his best vintage to date. Lovely acidity and concentration with near perfect use of oak. The wines all express very clear terroir definition; The Meursault is a blend coming from one third low lying vineyards and two third hillside vineyards, the perfect combination according to Jean Philippe. 

The Meursault Tessons is so bright and complex that it should really be awarded a Premier Cru. Thomas Morey. The 2010 vintage suits Thomas’s style. The wines are tight and delicate with great length. They are richer than the rather austere 2007s but will also need a few years to develop. Even the Bâtard Montrachet, often an appellation producing rather heavy wines, has a lovely acidity and minerality. Olivier Lamy. Understandingly Olivier is very pleased with is 2010. The wines have a beautiful balance. He’s using mainly 600l barrels to reduce the impact of the oak on his wines. Even the simple Bourgogne shows better than its rank but the real star of the tasting was the Premier Cru Remilly, rich and intense. Also unique is the very rare High Density Derriere Chez Edouard showing incredible minerality. Domaine de Courcel. Yves Confuron has really succeeded in this vintage. The wines here can be quite austere in their early stages but the 2010 were amazingly pure and showing a beautiful fruit with classic Pinot notes. Intense but fresh, the wines have an incredible balance and are very seductive. The Grand Clos des Epenots has an extra level of spices and complexity, but the Rugiens is once again the star and could be Grand Cru if Pommard had been awarded as such. Domaine Lignier Michelot. Virgile Lignier was just back from a trip overseas on our visit and the wines were showing much fresher than him! 

The various Morey 1er Crus were in top form but were eclipsed by the succulent Clos Saint Denis which is unfortunately much too rare. Domaine Marc Roy. Alexandrine Roy was understandably pleased by the vintage. She only owns village vineyards but, perhaps a blessing in disguise, she works even harder to extract the quintessence of the vines. The Vieilles Vignes is beautifully chiseled and the Clos Prieur could easily be taken for a premier cru. Domaine Robert Chevillon. Bertrand and Denis keep producing superb wines always in tune with the terroir. The Perrières has classic mineral notes, the Cailles is more seductive while the Vaucrains requires time to settle its big tannin structure. Domaine Confuron Cotetidot. I am not sure if Yves Confuron knows how much his wines are appreciated as they represent some of the best value in Burgundy. Many top Domaines have now reached a cult status and are not easily approachable, but not Confuron Cotetidot. Yves hasn’t changed much and is still very humble despite the worldwide recognition and ever increasing demand for his wines. Not surprisingly 2010 is a great success here. Domaine Taupenot Merme. A new Domaine for us last year, I was keen to taste the 2010 from Romain Taupenot. And I was in for a treat. The wines are beautifully balanced, very perfumed and with nice terroir expression. The village wines are seductive and will be nice in their youth but the stars were the grands crus, especially the Mazoyères Chambertin which was an explosion of flavour even before the end of the ageing. Domaine De Montille. A huge tasting here of nearly 20 wines. The whites were sublime with delicate but with marked freshness. The reds were also very delicate, especially from the Côte de Beaune vineyards. Very perfumed and seductive , even a little understated. The Côte de Nuits wines had a bit more structure but beautiful tannins and scored more by their balance than their power.

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Burgundy never ceases to surprise me! After a small miracle with 2010, I thought that it couldn’t happen again with the 2011 vintage. The year started with warm and sunny periods, early flowering, so much so that most growers were thinking of a repeat 2003. Except when the rain came along with a cool summer the harvest was pushed back a good couple of weeks eventuating with most of the grapes being picked before mid-September. The 2011 style is somewhat different though, with some comparing it to 2000 whilst others to 2007; I believe that the majority of the 2011s are much better than the wines produced during either of these vintages. Yes they are soft, fruity and appealing but they have more precision and tension too. 

The 2011 wines are lighter than the previous two vintages but not lacklustre; they’re charming and elegant with great precision. Naturally low in alcohol with gentle tannins and medium acidity levels they are perfect for drinking reasonably early, without any noticeable lack of balance they will age nicely too. 2011 is a very good representation of what many Burgundy producers are aspiring to achieve: seduction, delicate and precision in a vintage, where the wines just needed gentler handling to express the differences between the many array of villages and crus. The Domaines visited Bruno Colin. Beautiful ranges of whites, showing better than the 2010s at the same stage. The wines are clean, expressive and already very pleasing. The reds were also in top form and are very satisfying and still affordable.
François Carillon. François has bought more vineyards this year and his Domaine is now as big as the Domaine Louis Carillon was before the two brothers split. The wines are softer and easier than 2010 but still have the class expected from the Domaine. We are shipping a small selection of wines with his son Paul’s label. Jean-Philippe Fichet. Jean-Philippe was in great form as usual when I visited him; the tasting was very interesting as we had the company of a group of students from the oenology school in Beaune. For the past 3 or 4 years, the quality of Jean-Philippe’s wines have been faultless and even the lesser wines are seriously worth considering! Thomas Morey. Thomas is one of my favourite producers. I believed in him as soon as he left his father’s Domaine and made his own wines. Simplicity is the word here. Nothing to hide, just pure and ultra precise wines, the perfect blend between the tradition inherited from his father’s huge experience and the modern and delicate touch favoured by Thomas. Lovely and new this year is a parcel of Santenay Clos St Jean red. Olivier Lamy. Olivier was in top form and I’m really pleased with his 2011s. Hard working and focused, Olivier keeps pushing the boundaries; he is extending the surface of high density vineyards, planted at 20,000 sometimes 30,000 vines per hectare. And tasting the very rare High Density Derriere Chez Edouard is a vivid proof of his successful trials. Nicolas Rossignol. Nicolas has moved to larger premises in Beaune, shared with Benjamin Leroux. Having to vinify more than 25 different cuvées is a huge challenge and the move has helped him to improve further the precision and focus of his wines. He is so confident with his 2011 that he is not afraid to say that they are superior to his 2010 and I am not one to disagree with his opinion. Burgundy 2011 Offer Domaine de Courcel. Yves Confuron brought the 2011 samples over to his Vosne Estate. As usual with Yves wines they are more backward than most of the other producers but the pedigree is there and the undeniable quality is reflected in the entire range. . Domaine De Montille. Always a pleasure to see Alix de Montille again even if she was one hour late! Really beautiful wines here, so pure reflecting their origin so well. The style has changed quite a lot in the past decade and both the reds and the whites are amongst the classiest in Burgundy. No wonder they’re so much in demand. Domaine Marc Roy. Alexandrine Roy was recovering from a knee operation so her mother showed me the wines. They were all bottled (they like to bottle early to preserve the fruit and freshness of their wines) so they were easier to assess. As always the wines were very pure and amazingly appealing even so early; there is an addition to the range this year: The Gevrey La Justice is a new acquisition of a plot of 70 years old vines. Perhaps due to the fact that they only managed the vineyards recently the wine is quite different from the others; much more opulent, ultra ripe and powerful. My favourite this year was the Clos Prieur. Domaine Robert Chevillon. Bertrand and Denis are one of the most successful Domaine in Nuits due to the incredible consistency of their vineyards and wines. I have tasted here for more than 20 years and I am yet to discover a “poor” vintage from them. Obviously the vineyard management started by their father and improved along the years has helped them in producing top class wines. And blessed by the ownership of so many different Premiers Crus, the visit is very educational and informative on the different styles produced by that diversity of terroirs. Domaine Confuron Cotetidot. Like with the De Courcel wines, Yves’s wines are always more difficult to taste in their early stages. The wines have a little more structure than most and even in a softer and more forward vintage they require more time. I was particularly impressed by the wines outside the village this year, like the Nuits St Georges and the wines from Gevrey Chambertin. We are hoping to get Yves in the UK during 2013 for a tasting of older vintages. Domaine Taupenot Merme. Our third year with Romain and I am convinced that we are working with one of the very best Domaine in Burgundy. Last year I was particularly impressed by the Grands Crus, especially the Mazoyères Chambertin. This year even the simple appellations are really delivering proving that Romain can also exploit the potential of his other terroirs. And the whites are almost on the par with the reds, something quite rare in the Cote de Nuits!

Christian Honorez

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As you probably know already, 2012 was a very small vintage following other low yielding years. With an ever increasing demand from new markets, the demand for good Burgundies far surpasses the availability. Fortunately the quality is present in the 2012 vintage despite quite challenging conditions. The low yields appear to have concentrated the flavours and underlined the structure, without affecting the balance of the wines. The whites have more depth and concentration than the 2011s, but also a better balance and good fresh finish. 2012 has produced excellent wines for early drinking which also have good ageing potential – a little like 2010, but with a touch more richness and very seductive. The reds are possibly even more impressive with great precision and fruit. There is more energy and fruit than the past few vintages. The structure is definitely there, but most wines are delicate, perfumed with superb terroir definition. Some producers are comparing their wines to a mix of 2010 and 2011 vintages, while others are saying that 2012 is reminiscent of 2002 which turned out to deliver many great wines. 2012 is definitely a vintage where Burgundy can fully express its qualities and differences. Finally prices: as expected prices are up but nowhere near the relative rarity of the vintage. We have tried hard to keep the increases to a minimum.

Christian Honorez 2014

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Hot on the heels of the very small 2012 vintage, comes another Burgundian crop with significantly reduced yields. The extremely difficult, and in many cases, devastating climatic conditions, once again tested the resolve and the skills of vignerons across the region. Those growers who are diligent throughout the year and who have an intimate understanding of their various vineyard plots have risen to the challenge, crafting some very fine, elegantly expressive Burgundy wines. 

The spring was unseasonably cold and wet with both April and May bringing high levels of rainfall and below average temperatures. Flowering was going to be delayed, disturbed and uneven. So it proved to be, especially as June’s weather was only marginally better. The potential size of the crop was already compromised. In July the weather did, at last, warm up but, sadly, with increased humidity and risk of mildew and storms. A hugely destructive hail storm on the 23rd of the month scythed its brutal path through parts of Meursault, Volnay, Pommard, Beaune, Savigny-lès-Beaune and Pernand-Vergelesses. In these villages, damage varied between 50-100%. This disaster followed the 70-90% loss in Volnay and Pommard in 2012! In August the humid conditions continued to prevail making vigilant vineyard work essential in order to combat the ever present threat of mildew. September, mercifully, brought several days of fine weather that helped the well-tended fruit to ripen sufficiently. The harvest began in earnest towards the end of month and continued well into October, some 2-3 weeks later than normal. 

Selecting the best picking dates was particularly critical this year, with different parcels reaching phenolic ripeness at different times, and to complicate matters further, when the desired level of ripeness did arrive, it arrived very quickly, especially in Chablis. The pressure and stress on the growers was intense juggling the wait for fruit maturity against the risk of autumn weather conditions deteriorating. This was not a vintage of blanket decisions. Likewise, diligent sorting of the fruit both in the vineyard and the cuverie was key to ultimate quality. Notwithstanding the enormous challenges faced by Burgundian growers this year, the resulting quality of the best wines of 2013 is impressive – an eloquent reflection of their efforts and skills. It is not, by any means, a consistent vintage. Only where hard graft and an intimate understanding of the terroir and vines have worked in tandem, have growers delivered a winning result. 

The finest white wines show plenty of vibrant fresh citrus fruit, with excellent balance, tension and poise. The best red wines offer fine aromatics, honesty, purity and elegance. The deft hand of the more sensitive winemakers has clearly adapted to the relative delicacy of the 2013 fruit. There is a distinctly appetising profile to many wines. The myriad of terroirs, that is so much a part of Burgundy, express themselves with clarity and finesse. 2013 may not be a vintage of intense structure and richness but its inherent restraint and precision allow the taster to savour many of the intriguing intricacies of wines from this most compelling of wine producing regions. There is less fruit weight than 2012 and less structure and scale than 2010. Some growers feel that 2013 can be compared to vintages like 2004 or 2007 but with more fruit and concentration, particularly for the white wines with their racy, linear profile, or maybe a cross between 2008/2011. In any case, the quality and style of 2013 will bring much pleasurable drinking over the short to medium term. In many instances we have managed to reduce our offer pricing this year, thanks to a restrained approach from a number of growers in tandem with a beneficial movement in the £/€ exchange rate.

Christian Honorez & Neil Sommerfelt MW January 2015

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“Charming, fresh & balanced – very Burgundian.” The end of winter and early spring of 2014 were markedly mild, sunny and largely dry. Vine bud-burst was therefore early and led to thoughts of a potential late August harvest. However this benevolent weather pattern did not continue with much of May being cooler and damper than usual; the net result was that the vines’ development was slowed. Flowering in the first week of June passed off successfully giving rise to hopes of a bountiful vintage – much needed after a sequence of several smaller than average crops. June was dry and warm, for the most part, with occasional spikes in heat to over 30°C. The harvest was now expected to begin around the 10-12th September. The month though had not run its course before certain vignerons’ luck ran out as there was a savage hail storm that hit Meursault, Volnay, Pommard and Beaune – for the 3 rd year in succession! Cruel indeed. The worst hit domaines lost 50% of potential earnings, with cru by cru losses varying between 40%-80%. The weather in July was decidedly mixed with only very few hot, sunny periods being scattered amongst predominately rainy, cool conditions. Rot was a constant threat and for some, especially on the Côte de Nuits, the presence of the Asian vinegar fly was another problem to face, as these unwelcome pests pierce the berries causing the juice to turn acetic. Vigilance and strict sorting was necessary in the vineyards where these challenges occurred. August too, continued to be unseasonably cool and damp. The grapes were only slowly nearing full ripeness. September dawned and the weather changed. Settled, sunny conditions set in with a cool drying north wind – prayers had been answered! There were a couple of rain storms, but essentially the month was dry enabling the grapes to ripen sufficiently and the harvest to take place in good weather. Some growers chose to pick before the rain in order to retain freshness and edge in their wines, whilst others chose to harvest after the rain in the hope of attaining extra ripeness. Both choices seem to have their successes. 

The finest wines show precision, clarity of fruit, excellent balance and an authenticity that is very Burgundian. The greatest reds offer fine aromatics, honesty, purity and elegance, with more fruit ripeness and weight than 2013; whilst the best whites marry a fine, focused linearity and tension with a juiciness of ripe fruit. Alcohol degrees, in general, are tempered and minerality/salinity is marked ensuring that the best wines are very appetising. The 2014 Chablis vintage stands out for exhibiting excellent verve and typicité and with good ageing potential. A widely noted refreshing drinkability is a key element of the success of 2014 Burgundy and the deft hand of the more sensitive winemakers has clearly adapted well to the relative delicacy of the 2014 fruit. Here the myriad of terroirs, that is so much a part of Burgundy, express themselves with clarity and finesse. 2014, like 2013 before it, may not be a vintage of intense structure and richness but its inherent restraint, finesse and precision allow the taster to savour many of the intriguing intricacies of wines from this most compelling of wine-producing regions. Volumes, overall, are more plentiful than in recent vintages, except for those embattled growers in the Volnay/Pommard sector where the hail caused such devastating damage. Volumes are also a problem in parts of the Côte de Nuits where the Asian vinegar fly impact was at its worst. Some growers feel that 2014 can be compared to vintages like 2008 but with more weight (for whites) or 2012, 2000 or 1999 for red. In any case, the quality and style of 2014 will bring hugely pleasurable drinking over the short to medium term. For our Burgundy 2014 En Primeur offer, we are pleased to say that we have once again managed to reduce our pricing in many instances, thanks to a restrained approach from a number of growers in tandem with a beneficial movement in the £/€ exchange rate.

Christian Honorez & Neil Sommerfelt MW January 2016

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“A top Burgundy vintage – very fine red wines & most attractive white wines.”

There was almost no proper winter in 2014/2015, with no real sustained period of truly cold weather. Spring was early and straightforward, causing no particular stress for the growers. April was mild and damp, which encouraged an early bud break. Growers in Chablis, in particular, hoped that there would not be a destructive frost. As it turned out, no significant damage was done. May was also rather wet, though the extra rainfall would later prove to be a real bonus since most of June, as well as July and August, were exceptionally hot and dry. The mild, damp conditions in May led to only a limited incidence of mildew, which was largely controlled. The mid-June flowering passed off quickly (just 10 days) under relatively benign conditions followed by 50-60mm of rain, which proved benevolent as the following 2 months were hot and dry. Véraison began in the middle of July, but did not finish until the middle of August. The slightly more varied weather during August may well have had the effect of slowing down the ripening process. Thereafter the extreme heat caused the vines to produce plenty of sugar and to burn off malic acidity, while thickening the skins in both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay during this period. Much of the harvest itself passed quickly in ideal weather conditions during the first 10 days of September, but rain on the middle weekend of the month caused a temporary halt in proceedings, before resuming for the final few days. Many growers pointed to the need to pick quickly in order to retain natural freshness in the fruit, before acidities fell too far. The berries proved to be small thanks to the hot, dry summer. Such was the quality of the incoming fruit that sorting tables were largely redundant! Fruit was beautifully healthy and thick-skinned. The amount of juice was causing average yields to be on the low side. Acidities proved to be more marked than first anticipated – this was especially important for the white wines in order to ensure sufficient counterpoint to 3 the natural richness of the fruit. Much of the total acidity was tartaric acidity, so was not reduced during the malolactic fermentations, hence the wines retaining more freshness than expected. 

The 2015s may not have the cut and tension of the 2014s, but there appears to be sufficient vibrancy and poise in order to balance the plush, wonderfully ripe fruit. Chablis The night of 31st August and the morning of 1 st September would see a massive storm that dumped 80-100mm of rain in just a few hours. While this was bad enough, it was accompanied by a severe incidence of hail that impacted as many as 600 hectares of vines! It cut a swathe across much of 1er Cru ‘Montmains’, before moving across to hit the Grands Crus of ‘Les Clos’ and ‘Blanchots’ and finally wreaking havoc on 1er Cru ‘Montée de Tonnerre’. The losses ranged from as little as 20% to as much as 80%. For those who had hail-damaged parcels, the warm/humid conditions caused concern re the likelihood of rot setting in. The harvest started very quickly as a result. However, these concerns were ill-founded as conditions remained cool and dry. In fact, there was very little impact on the quality of the fruit overall. A major advantage of the hot and dry summer was that it had produced wonderfully healthy fruit that could be picked extremely quickly. This also helped to retain all important acidity. 

The Results 

There is little doubt that there has already been plenty of hype surrounding the 2015 vintage, especially for the red wines. The results are indeed most impressive. Sensitive, gentle winemaking, without over extraction or manipulation, has allowed the wonderfully ripe fruit to show itself to its full potential. There are many, many red wines of real class, brimming with beautifully ripe fruit that is framed with refined, silken tannins. There is a high level of red wine consistency across communes and appellations, with many wines offering a quality/style that Burgundy lovers crave, be it a humble Bourgogne Rouge or “village” wine (both with associated good value), a more refined 1er Cru or a noble Grand Cru. There is sufficient freshness too, providing fine balance and allowing their Burgundian heritage to show itself with great clarity and typicité. The best will age superbly over many years. The oft-declared higher proportion of whole bunches used in vinifications has clearly aided this retention of freshness – key in the dry warmth of 2015 – so bringing real benefit to the wines, and not just about being ‘modish’! Their early charm belies their longer term ageing potential. The white wines, including Chablis, exhibit plenty of authentic fruit character and are of excellent ripeness, with significantly more weight and richness than the more linear 2014s. The acidity is lower than in the previous year, but the best wines do seem to have retained enough vitality in order to keep themselves in balance. However, the 2015 white Burgundies will most likely reach their peak before the equivalent 2014 white wines. When comparing the 2015 red Burgundies to older vintages, 2015 is not another 2003 since August was more tempered this time. It has more intensity than 2009. It is maybe riper than 2010; maybe 2005, but perhaps with riper tannins. 2005, a similarly high flying vintage for red Burgundy, shut down not long after release and in many cases the wines are yet to open up again. With the classier tannin profile of the 2015s and a more detectable freshness/clarity, the likelihood is that they will not retire into a shell to the same extent and will therefore be more accessible earlier in their evolution. The 2015 white Burgundy vintage appears to be a cross between 2006 and 2009, in as much as they both produced whites in ripe, rich styles, with gentle acidities and hence were suitable for earlier drinking. The limited supply of wine caused by the lower yields, coupled with high critical acclaim and very little wine to come from the miniscule 2016 vintage, has had the effect of pushing many prices upwards. The fragility of the pound sterling has exacerbated these increases. We have worked hard in order to minimise the impact of this intense pressure on our offer prices, but final prices have risen, some quite significantly.

Neil Sommerfelt MW, Fine Wine Buyer January 2017

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2016 Burgundy – beauty out of adversity.”

At its best, Burgundy 2016 exhibits beautiful quality and styling but is very sadly yet another year of very low yields. Inconsistency, too, means that being strict with our selection was critical. While this is a nightmare for Burgundian growers and keen, regular Burgundy drinkers alike, it is likely to be better news but only for those investors who are able and fortunate enough to secure precious allocations of top tier wines. Sadly, these star wines have become increasingly ‘out of reach’ for many. For sure there will be limited stock available, but the old maxim of supply and demand will no doubt apply. The latter is bound to exceed the former, pushing prices up in secondary markets and making Burgundy 2016 a sought-after vintage. 

Apart from almost a year’s worth of rain having fallen by the end of June, the punishing climatic conditions were dominated by a devastating frost on the 27th April. Thankfully the embattled region witnessed some salvation as glorious weather in the second half of summer settled in from July onwards. The first half of the growing season was the most difficult in living memory, the second half as close to perfect as anybody could have hoped for. Although hailstorms in the Mâconnais and Chablis did cause some significant damage, reducing yields there, they did not really impact the Cote d’Or. What decimated so much of numerous appellation’s yield, however, was the severe frost on the night of 26th/27th April. A cloudless night caused temperatures to drop below freezing – not by much, maybe -2 to -4 degrees at most but the effect was more like a winter freeze than a spring frost. The rain during the evening/night of the 26th froze on the vines acting as a magnifying glass for the sun the following morning, intensifying the impact of the freeze on the tender vine buds. The gloriously cloudless sunrise on the 27th delivered this ‘coup de grâce’ as the temperature remained so low long enough to inflict its severe toll. There was destruction of devastating proportions. Even Le Montrachet, not impacted by frost for at least 100 years, lost 99% of its crop. Savigny-lès-Beaune and Pernand-Vergelesses lost up to 90%, as did certain vineyards in Chassagne Montrachet. In the Côte de Nuits, Marsannay, Nuits St Georges and Chambolle-Musigny took the full force whereas their neighbour Morey St Denis was left largely intact. Erratic weather conditions in the weeks that followed hampered the vines from setting second generation buds where the first had been destroyed. There was also severe pressure from mildew. 85% of average annual rainfall fell in the first 6 months of the year. This outbreak of mildew also struck vineyards very erratically, and much depended on the timing of the numerous treatments necessary. Vigilance was key. In 2016, many growers were forced to leave biodynamic principles in abeyance as the mildew and humidity threatened what little crop remained. Many biodynamic farmers, therefore, endured a real battle. They had to apply numerous treatments compared to a normal year. The volatile rain patterns tended to wash the newly applied treatments off the vines only hours after the work was finished, which means they had to go out again and fight to protect their vines. 3 The longest day of the year, though, presaged a change in the weather, with gloriously welcome sunshine showing itself on 22nd June. From late July all the way into September, the weather was superb, with day after day of sun, often very warm even hot. The summer saw 30% less rain than normal. However, the odd cooler, damper respite helped ensure that the ripening process was not blocked. The hot, clear and sunny conditions, with minimal humidity, that predominated, allowed the grapes to ripen beautifully. The exceptional late summer weather continued right through until heavy rain overnight on 14th/15th September, and some showers over the next few days: welcome rain on the whole to relieve the vines, which were starting to suffer from hydric stress, and to reinvigorate the ripening process. The harvest began earlier than originally expected – from the 19th September with most growers having completed their picking by the end of the month. Importantly, the whole crop was gathered in under fine weather conditions. The grapes were mostly very healthy with the correct balance between sugar and acidity. 

The reds were more advanced than the whites, and the vines themselves looked in fine condition but there were pitifully few bunches to be seen. Aromas of the best wines tend to be bright, pure and refined, but sadly they will only be available in very small volumes from certain vineyards. The wines The finest reds exhibit a beautifully pure aromatic, floral style with sculpted tannins and telling, teasing minerality. A seam of freshness runs through the wines thanks to cool nights in September and timely picking dates. The tannins are often satin-like, lithe and perfectly pitched. This is a vintage that will allow drinkers to choose when to enjoy their wines as it will show well from an early age (2-3 years depending on vineyard pedigree) as well as repay medium to longer term cellaring. The small crop has given the wines fine concentration. The widespread inclusion of whole clusters in vinifications has helped retain freshness and an appetising edge to many wines. The best whites exhibit more tension and vivacity than 2015 coupled with a silken, creamy mid-palate texture that results in fine poise and balance. Elegance and marked typicité are much in evidence, for both reds and whites. 2016 is a fine advert for Burgundian terroir expression, despite the ravages of the early growing season, and as such goes with our utmost recommendation. The move to increasingly sensitive, deft winemaking continues including gentle extraction, less manipulation and less new oak. The determination to allow the wines to express their precise origins with purity and clarity has to be applauded. What is more, it helps to portray emphatically the essential ‘personalities’ of the wines that arise from this veritable mosaic of vineyards – a key feature of Burgundy’s raison d’être. There were numerous examples of growers blending together a number of individual 1ers Crus as each of the individual crus produced so little fruit that to vinify them as “stand alone” cuvées was untenable. 

As a result,there are many unique wines on offer in 2016. In many instances the results are excellent too. Prices Prices of 2016 would have been under even more pressure if the 2017 vintage had not delivered such hugely welcome and overdue full cellars. As it is, the continued weakness of the pound does not help – which allied to severe pressure of growing global demand for such limited stocks, does mean that several offer prices are subject to an increase over last year. We have done our best to keep these rises to a minimum.

Neil Sommerfelt MW, Consultant January 2018

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“2017 Burgundy – expressive, elegant and balanced.”

After several years of difficult and short vintages in Burgundy, winemakers throughout the region breathed a collective sigh of relief when the 2017 harvest was gathered in. Ironically, it was a year which on a national scale was catastrophic for other wine producing areas throughout France with overall production down by almost 25% across the country. Burgundy, for once, did manage to avoid the adverse impact of extreme weather conditions. In fact, this was the largest crop in the region since 2009. A decent or ‘average’ sized vintage was overdue and this is what the region has delivered. Not excessive just very respectable volumes overall. Whilst many vineyards in Bordeaux were decimated by severe late spring frosts – conditions the Burgundians know only too well following last year’s (2016) vintage – Burgundy was spared in 2017. 

Terrified of a repeat performance, it was all hands on deck on April 26-27th with what seemed like entire villages turning out in the small hours lighting candles and bales of hay – in fact almost anything that burned in order to generate enough smoke thereby reducing the risk of frost damage. Fortunately these efforts were rewarded with production levels significantly increased from the hugely restricted 2016: Chablis production increased just over 50%, notwithstanding some loss to frost, whilst overall the red Burgundy crop increased by 40% and white wine production was up by just over 20% on 2016. The mainly dry, early harvest without significant hail or frost damage was a welcome blessing. An Indian summer led to a hassle-free harvest. The harvest date, as always, was key. Many growers opted for an early start in a bid to safeguard sufficient freshness in the wines. Malic acidity was generally low, whilst tartaric acidity was of a good level so that even after the malolactic fermentations the wines have retained an excellent sense of vitality and freshness. Gentle, deft handling in the cellar was vital in order to ensure that the relatively delicate profile of the wines was not marked by over-extraction and/or over-manipulation. Pure, crunchy red fruit styles abound in 2017. The taster’s palate remains fresh even after extensive tastings of these elegant Burgundies. A decent sized crop following on from a series of such small vintages does, however, require some caution. As a few growers pointed out, many producers have had to struggle to survive over the last few years and were desperate to recoup some of their losses. This has led to some potential over-cropping. Selectivity in which wines to buy this year is very important, therefore. The majority of growers we visited in November are extremely pleased with their wonderfully ripe fruit and have variously compared the 2017 vintage to 1999, 2002, 2007 or 2012 for the red wines and perhaps 2014 for the whites. The harvest was healthy and of even ripeness. The pedigree of the best wines is clear to see thanks to a fine clarity of expression, terroir by terroir. The over-riding characteristics of the vintage being elegance, fine expressive aromatics with harmonious poise and balance. Freshness, precision and bright sapidity are oft-noted descriptors too. Silken textures and seams of telling vivacity are also of frequent note. All in all, 2017 has produced many wines that are of much charm and finesse with a delightful classically appetising style that high quality Burgundy can deliver so tantalizingly when conditions are right. Young Nicolas Groffier of Domaine Robert Groffier is very pleased with his 2017 vintage, defined by the warm summer and benefitting from gentle persistent wind that helped remove the risk of significant disease pressure. “we harvested wonderfully ripe fruit, with good sugars, and gentle but telling acidity. 

The end result is wines that are sensual and with no austerity. They are seductive and accessible with freshness and finesse. They are of a classic style with fine precision, reminding me of 1997, 2002 or perhaps 2012.” Nicolas Potel of Domaine de Bellene/Roche de Bellene is also very happy with his 2017s noting their “fine balance and the sheer quality of their fruit” as the keys to success this year. He, like many other growers, expressed the view that their 2017s will offer much of their seductive charm early in their evolution but will also offer decent ageing ability due to their excellent balance. The distinct characteristics of the myriad terroirs that makes up the mosaic of Burgundy are eloquently expressed in 2017. The wines show fine transparency. In Chablis, a number of growers believe that the character profile of the 2017 vintage is a marriage of the 2016 and 2014 in terms of style; with the ripeness of 2016 but also much of the key tension, salinity and precision of 2014. In other words, pretty ideal. The only sadness, though, is that volumes here were once again impacted by frost in late April. Nevertheless the overall Chablis crop was not nearly as badly depleted as in 2016. Prices As it is, the continued weakness of the pound does not help – which allied to severe pressure of growing global demand for such wines, does mean that several offer prices are subject to an increase over the coming months. We have done our best to keep these rises to a minimum.

Neil Sommerfelt MW, Consultant January 2019

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“2018 Burgundy – many beautifully pure wines with plenty of fruit richness but with poise and typicité.”

Essential in defining the 2018 harvest was the preceding winter, which was excessively wet and rainy. However, this proved to be a blessing during the drought months of high summer which followed. The vines’ roots were able to tap into the well replenished water table. The signature of the 2018 growing season itself was the remarkable level of light, with plenty of warm sunshine during spring and summer. 

Budburst occurred without a hitch on normal dates whilst the settled warm weather meant that flowering happened under ideal conditions. This resulted in a very even fruit-set promising both a good volume of grapes as well as an even ripening. Hailstorms and the threat of frost were, thankfully, of very limited occurrence and as long as there was sufficient ground water, the vines remained healthy throughout the warm summer months. Younger vines, however, may have suffered from the drought causing them to shut down during véraison, but older deeper-rooted vines coped well with the lack of water. Véraison started in early July and stretched out over 6 weeks, a much longer period than normal due to the lack of water and high summer temperatures. This allowed high levels of concentration and flavour complexity to develop. By the end of August, many growers stated that their crop was in almost perfect condition. The weather held throughout August permitting growers to pick at the end of the month in perfect dry conditions. Very little sorting was required thanks to the homogenous ripening and the lack of disease in the vineyard. Whilst there were mildew issues for some of the red wines, the more resilient Chardonnay seems to have ripened perfectly producing rich and opulent wines in 2018. Harvest for the red wines also took place in ideal conditions in early to late September, with cool nights keeping the fruit fresh after warm, sunny days. The red wines are dark and, despite their rich constitution remain pure, fresh and beautifully balanced. Many can be described as exuberant. Tannins are often seductively silken and refined. Palate fatigue during a long tasting week was rarely encountered. The finest wines exhibit telling aromatics with floral, perfumed notes to the fore. 

All in all the styling and balance of the best 2018s was a welcome surprise, especially considering the warmth of the vintage. They will age very well. It may seem to run against logic but the generous harvest seems to have had less negative impact on the red wines than may have been expected, despite Pinot Noir’s notorious sensitivity to high yields. There is the undoubted potential for very high quality in 2018 red wines but it is by no means a uniform vintage. Selection, as ever, is key. Those growers who allowed their grapes too long a hang time suffered a rapid upswing in sugar accumulation at the end of the ripening period. This led to alcoholic degrees approaching or even exceeding 15%, and stuck fermentations resulting in high levels of volatile acidity and bacterial spoilage. However, the majority of wines are beautifully concentrated whilst also retaining more poise, freshness and vibrancy than in other top warm vintages such as 2005, 2009 and 2015. Despite the warm vintage, tasting the freshness of the whites in 2018 made them equally exciting as the reds. Where yields are not excessive, there is real terroir definition in 2018, despite the ripeness levels. They are very much wines of Burgundy: wines with personality and expression of their particular vineyard origins. With fine acidity and tension on the palate, and a penetrating mineral streak, the white wines are reminiscent of the 2017s but with an extra layer of fruit weight and complexity. The key for any Chardonnay producer in a warm vintage is to retain freshness. The generous yields helped compensate for the richness of the fruit, endowing the wines with a bright pure fresh fruit, but with an extra dimension of graceful texture alongside. The likes of Olivier Lamy and Thomas Morey, like the majority of other Cote de Beaune growers, favour picking early in order to retain the necessary acidity and hence freshness. The best 2018s exhibit extra weight and richness competing with the tense and energetic mineral freshness. In Chablis, the best wines offer noticeable concentration similar in style to the 2015s but with more minerality and tension on the finale and thus retaining that all important vibrancy so much a part of the true Chablis idiom. One of the most noticeable changes due to climate change is the shortening of the optimum picking window. In the past there was a 3-4 week picking period, kicking off with the warmer ‘crus’, whilst waiting for the cooler vineyard sites to ripen. This year there were only 6-10 days for the optimum picking window for the whole region which causes significant difficulties in trying to harvest all the grapes in best condition. As far as winemaking is concerned, the vast majority of growers agreed that a “light hand at the tiller” was required. The avoidance of over-extraction through over-manipulation was key. For example, less focus on pigéage and more on remontage for the reds, as well as less, if any, lees-stirring for the whites. Levels of new oak usage continue to be reduced too. A gentle, sensitive approach resulted in the most eye-catching wines.

 Neil Sommerfelt MW, Consultant January 2020.

Notes from the producers “Magnifique!” Alexandrine Roy (Domaine Marc Roy) “Good sized crop helped conserve the terroir distinctiveness.” Jacques Desvauges (Domaine des Lambrays)

“Rich but not excessive.” Bertrand Chevillon (Domaine Robert Chevillon)

 “Plenty of weight and richness but allied to good freshness.” Marion Javillier (Domaine Patrick Javillier)

“Lovely vintage, lovely wines.” Jean-Philippe Fichet (Jean-Philippe Fichet)

“Warmer, richer style than 2017.” Jean-Marc Blain (Domaine Blain-Gagnard)

“A fine surprise especially regarding the freshness.” Sabine Mollard (Domaine Marc Morey)

“The 30% extra light in 2018 affected the reds more than the whites as dark grape skins reflect less. The wines show surprising freshness and energy for such a warm year. The reds are beautifully ripe with statuesque tannins.” Olivier Lamy (Domaine Hubert Lamy)

“When it comes to 2018, I cannot call the year perfect, but it is as close as it gets.” Albéric Bichot (Maison Albert Bichot)

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