November 9, 2016

A Summer’s Tasting Trip To Burgundy

We are at a curious point in the evolution of supply and demand for Burgundy. Whilst interest has never been stronger, recent years have seen hugely variable production, leading to inevitable pressure on prices. Add to that an unfavourable exchange rate and we approach the coming 2015 vintage with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.

Burgundy vineyards

 

Let us begin therefore with a recap of the last three years.

2014: Overall volumes were 8% above average, but parts of the Cote de Beaune were for the third year running badly affected by hail (on 28 June), some losing over half their crop. The Asian fruit fly Drosophila suzukii made careful sorting crucial. A top year for whites throughout the region and a very good one for reds. From a UK perspective, the last vintage of these three bought at a friendly exchange rate.

2015: Finally a straightforward growing season in the Cote d’Or. Healthy flowering made for reasonable volumes overall, but there is local variation due to the knock-on effects of the 2014 hail and some hydric stress/sunburn later in the season. Warm weather made for small berries, meaning reds with naturally high tannins. High ripeness has resulted in supple, concentrated fruit. Keep an eye on acidity in the whites, although early indications are very positive. Chablis hit by hail just before harvest (1 September), with consequences of mixed severity. Could be a great vintage for reds and an ebullient, pleasure-giving one for whites.

2016: Still on the vine at the time of my August visit, but the crop has been severely reduced by frost and then mildew. Losses range from around a third to the point where you wonder if it is worth sending in the pickers at all. And all this without hail in the Cote d’Or so far (touch wood). What fruit remains is healthy and the weather looks set to remain warm and sunny throughout September (touch wood again). Very fraught vintage in Chablis, which was hailed badly once more (31 May).

The 2015s

Following tastings of the first of the 2015 Burgundies earlier this month, here are some initial thoughts.

Reds: Supple, very accessible, with juicy acidity and a fine but firm tannic backbone. Very complete. There was so much phenolic matter (thick grape skins), most growers spoke of being very cautious with extraction, either ‘punching down’ the cap of fermenting grape skins very gently, or not at all (as at Rossignol-Trapet). Less new oak was used than usual, due to having enough natural voluptuousness. Very limited sorting of grapes was needed – the fruit was healthy.

Whites: 2015 was warm, but the whites tasted had more in common with the wonderful 2014 than the more overtly generous 2009, for example. Fresh, crisp whites which are ripe but far from overripe. Alcohol levels in both whites and reds are firm but balanced.

 

Some Grower Comments

Domaine Rossignol-Trapet, Gevrey-Chambertin

Nicholas Rossignol-Trapet called 2015 a “Zen vintage” – calm and easy to make. Just two people worked the sorting table, and they barely needed to lift a finger.

Château de la Tour, Clos de Vougeot

There will be a Hommage a Jean Morin in 2015. All three wines buzz with life. Very firm tannins in the Vielles Vignes and Hommage mean they will need significant cellaring, but the fruit is beautifully supple.

Domaine de l’Arlot, Nuits-Saint-Georges

Supple and approachable reds, more red fruited than in some years. Domaine de l’Arlot harvested 20 hectolitres per hectare (2,000 litres of wine from one hectare of vineyard), whereas their aim is 35 hl/ha. Technical Director Géraldine Godot said this equated to 146 barrels in total in 2015.

Domaine Jacques Prieur, Meursault

(with holdings throughout Cote d’Or)

A visible shift here towards a slightly earlier picked style. The whites are crisp and less overtly flamboyant. Reds are wonderfully juicy and succulent, but with crunchy red fruit. Edouard Labruyere called the 2016 volumes “a nightmare”. Projected overall yields in 2016 are 65% down on 2015. Average production at DJP is 1,000 hectolitres (hl) – 2016 will be less than 200 hl.

Domaine Patrick Javillier, Meursault

Quantities in 2015 are “finally normal” according to Patrick, but 2016 will be less than half. Acidities are a little lower than in 2014 but this is almost imperceptible. The white 2015s are in a very similar quality bracket to the 2014s – the Meursaults in particular are stunning.

Domaine Pierre Labet

According to Francois Labet, “making whites is easy, you just focus on acids”. Indeed, his whites have excellent energy and substantial density, particularly the Savigny-Vergelesses and Tillets. A strong showing from the reds across the board. Particularly gratifying to see the Beaune reds on song.

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