January 4, 2017

Burgundy 2015: Vintage Report

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The 2015 growing season was a meeting of extremes. The summer heat left its stamp on the fruit, with succulent, ripe flavours pervading the wines.

There are substantial tannins in the reds thanks to thick grape skins, although they are supple, almost without exception. There is freshness and poise too, due in part to the water reserves built up over a wet winter. This allowed the vines to hold out until the August rains. The icing on the cake was a clear blue sky for harvest, allowing the grapes to be picked in optimal conditions. The only negative is the yield, which in many places is low again in 2015. Reasons for this include damage to dormant buds during the previous season and some uneven fruit set caused by a warm June.

A mild winter and a warm spring

After a soggy autumn 2014 came a mild winter. Temperatures only became properly wintery in January, and there were but a few days of frost in February. March was both cool and dry, seeing 9% less rainfall than the regional average. April was warmer overall, although interspersed with cool, damp periods. The first green leaves were visible from mid-month, following which the vines developed at a steady rate. Some growers reported mildew pressure at this point, requiring vigilance in the vineyards. The second week of May saw rapid vegetative growth across the Côte d’Or, aided by spring warmth.

An early summer, with a scorching July

Flowering was early, beginning in the final days of May and the first days of June. Most sites saw flowers opening quickly, within a few days. Rapid development was brought on by some rain from the 10th to 15th June. The month of June turned out to be the warmest since 2003, causing poor fruit set in some plots. Grape ripening started in mid-July, with véraison (colour change) starting but then being halted in its tracks by temperatures which exceeded 35°C for much of the month. Domaine Leflaive reported 15 days in excess of 35°C during July. Salvation arrived at monthend in the form of rain, but drought pressure nonetheless remained, the once-plentiful soil water reserves all but spent. In addition to this rain, August saw a return of more normal temperatures, which allowed the stifled region to breathe. Prompted by the cooler air, ripening advanced rapidly, véraison being almost completed by mid-month.

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Harvest

Most growers harvested during the first two weeks of September, under fine conditions. Cautious picking of the Chardonnay has resulted in whites which might display fleshiness and glycerol but are poised and have scarcer tropical fruit character than might be expected from a warm year. Some, such as François Labet, left up to a week between white and red wine harvests.

The grapes were healthy, with minimal sorting required. Phenolic maturity was excellent: many growers mention the thick grape skins of 2015 and the high proportion of domaines which have opted for whole bunch vinification shows how confident they were with the ripeness of the stems. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti used 100% whole bunches in 2015, for the first time since 2009. The healthy, aerated clusters meant that for many appellations, the full crop could be used for vinification.

When you ask about potential alcohols(essentially the sugar ripeness), vignerons smile – always a reassuring sign. Certainly a poor year for sugar salesmen in the Côte. In our tastings, the final alcohol levels were acceptably balanced by the substantial extract and fruit density, in spite of what some seem to have assumed before tasting. Volumes range from good in the Côte de Beaune whites, such as at Domaine Patrick Javillier, to reasonable in Chablis, to tight in the Côte de Nuits reds (16-17% down at Domaines de l’Arlot and Gilles Jourdan), to pitiful in the Côte de Beaune reds, where Domaine Lafarge picked only around half a normal crop. As mentioned above, yield variations were due to a combination of latent vine damage from previous years, mildew pressure in the early season and a heat-affected fruit set.

Most producers reported easy, spontaneous fermentations. Due to high tannin levels, most were cautious with extraction. Punching down was either very gentle, as at Domaine de l’Arlot, or avoided altogether, as at Domaine Rossignol-Trapet. Although tartaric acidity was good, the malic acidity was low, mostly due to the July heat, meaning malolactic fermentation was generally swift and uncomplicated. pH levels are a notch higher than in 2014 but for the most part, there is a barely perceptible difference in freshness on the palate. As Patrick Javillier noted, the relationship between pH and taste is far from linear.

In conclusion

2015 in Burgundy looks set to live up to our high expectations for the reds and, importantly, to exceed our more tempered expectations for the whites. There are years where the sense of fruit is in danger of overwhelming the sense of place; 2009 might spring to mind. I am happy to report that we are not dealing with that in 2015. There are other years where the fruit density is modest at best, meaning tannins may poke through here and there; 2013 perhaps. We are certainly not dealing with that in 2015.

The reason I mention these recent vintages is that, far from being at an extreme this year, we instead find ourselves in the hallowed middle ground, the point where the Burgundian deities have allowed us both grape and terroir expression. Yes, there is more fruit weight than in 2014, and some arch-traditionalists might raise an eyebrow at the sheer seductiveness of 2015 (although I suspect many of us rather like it). The point is that we have, above all else, balance. High but supple tannins and rich but juicy fruit in the reds. The whites are ripe but fresh, plump but taut. And if that sounds like we are looking forward to having our cake and eating it, well… we very much are.

We are excited to announce a global campaign for the en primeur 2015 Burgundy vintage release in January 2017. We are hosting tastings in London, Edinburgh, Hong Kong and Singapore. Join us to be the first to taste this exciting vintage from a selection of world class producers including the first chance to buy.

We hope to see you there!

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