Domaine Borgeot Cremant de Bourgogne
Don’t call it Champagne. You’ll get us in trouble. But this Borgeot Cremant de Bourgogne is produced in the very same way as those much more expensive wines that we are allowed to call Champagne. A well-made Cremant is a joy. A wine you can pull out for any occasion. And a wine which is made on a more human scale than the millions upon millions of bottles produced by our neighbors to the north. And that’s reason enough to celebrate!
The Borgeot brothers, Pascal and Laurent, have great 'touch' with Chardonnay, producing classy and distinctive regional, village and 1er cru wines in Burgundy's 'golden triangle' of Puligny-Montrachet, Cassagne-Montrachet and Meursault.
In the nearby village of Bouzeron they produce quality Aligoté, which you will find along with Pinot Noir in their Crémant de Bourgogne.
But it would be a mistake to focus only on their white wines, Santenay AOC is home turf, with the winery based in Remigny.
In Santenay they produce single vineyard village and 1er Cru. They have also strongly defended their Pinot Noir vines in Chassagne-Montrachet again with impressive village and 1er cru selections.
BURGUNDY 2019 VINTAGE
There’s a popular saying here in Burgundy which points out that, since the start of the 20th century, vintages ending in ‘9’ have been exceptional. So when 2019 came around, we were secretly anticipating something special. Little did we know!
Every vintage comes with its own hyperbole: best of the decade; greatest of the century; another 1990. And it’s true, as the climate continues to warm, there has been some remarkable wine produced in recent years. But in Burgundy in 2019, it got hot.
Both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay like to come to maturity slowly. Too much heat cooks the elegance out of them. So climate change is an existential issue for Burgundy wine as we know it.
But in 2019 something remarkable happened. I hesitate to call it a paradigm shift; it may well be a one-off. But in a year where, in some places, grapes turned to raisins on the vine, Burgundy has given us a vintage worthy of the hyperbole.
You won’t find many lacey, delicate wines this year. The vintage will be unapologetically bold and unbelievably concentrated. The whites are indulgent, often explosive, and pinned to a mind-bogglingly good acidic framework, given the summer heat. The reds are sophisticated and elegant, alive.
Perhaps most tellingly, despite the hot summer, this was not one of those late-August harvests that we’re getting accustomed to. The harvest got underway in the Cote de Beaune on 12 September. And some in the Cote de Nuits did not begin picking until the 23rd. The fruit was ripe earlier, but the fine conditions allowed the growers to wait for the holy grail: phenolic maturity.
You rarely get fruit maturity (the sugar part of the equation) plus phenolic maturity (the tannins in the pips and stems) coming together at the same time. Usually you sacrifice one for the other. You can’t force it to happen. Nature bestows it upon you. But when it does happen, that, almost by definition, is a great vintage.
2019 will be a great vintage. Think 2018 with more energy. The only downside is that, as opposed to the bumper crop we saw in 2018, 2019 was a small crop. Down by as much as 60% in the southern zones where it was hottest.
Let’s look quickly at how the season developed. The winter 2018/19 was mild, with higher than average temperatures in December and February. There was a lot of rain in December which many claim could ultimately have saved the vintage from the summer’s drought.
Spring was warm and the growth cycle started earlier than usual. There were precocious zones with bud burst in early April. But cold weather set in on 5 April with frost in many areas. Frost damage would have an effect on yields, particularly in the Maconnais. The cold weather held on through mid-April with several consequential frost risks.
Warm weather returned in May and remained until early June when temperatures dropped again, slowing growth again and hindering flowering. There was a good bit of flower abortion (millerandage), which, again, took its part of the yield at harvest.
Then mid-summer was hot-hot And dry-dry. The vines, for the most part, were in good shape going into the heat wave, but the stress was excessive. Vines handled the conditions differently from one plot to the next. Consensus is that old vines, with their deep roots, were able to find water in the subsoil. And that younger, well-tended vines, had a similar advantage. Vines with roots that went looking for water near the surface, however, suffered towards the end of the season, as they scorched and shriveled.
There was just a bit of rain in August, and from then on through September was hot but fine. In certain areas Pinot Noir ripened before Chardonnay, so harvest planning was complicated. The first Cremant vineyards were picked at the very end of August, and the harvest continued through to mid-October.
Harvest was a joy for the most part. Good weather. No disease. And the fruit that survived frost and fire was beautiful. Fermentation in both white and red went off easily. Whites finished slowly, gently, giving balance and purity. The length of red fermentation varied a lot, but the tannins are fine and the wine has vigor.
BURGUNDY 2018 VINTAGE
There has been talk over the past year of the 2018 vintage in Burgundy being one of the greatest of all time. Comparisons with the mythical 1947, and all that. But let’s be careful and take a closer look.
We’ve tasted some marvellous wines, both white and red, and from all of the appellation levels. Purity and concentration would be the key words across the board.
But lest we forget, 2018 was the hottest vintage in Burgundy since 2003. And frankly, we were expecting wines like we got in 2003: flabby whites and Cote du Rhone-like reds. But that did not happen. And the secret to understanding 2018 Burgundy lies in understanding the difference between these two very hot years.
If you look at 2018 from start to finish, not only was it hot, it was dry: 50% less precipitation than the annual average over the past 30 years. However, if you were here in the early part of the year, you’ll certainly remember the rain.
After a very dry summer in 2017, winter 2017-18 was wet. It rained nearly every day through March and into April. And the vine was slow to bud.
That all changed in the middle of April. Wet soil and higher temperatures brought on explosive growth in the vineyards that the vigneron had a tough time keeping up with. In a week we went from bud burst to unfurled leaves.
The first flowers burst in mid-May. The crop set regularly with very little disruption, and summer settled in. The early wet conditions followed by April’s warmth saw the onset of mildew, but the fungus never stood a chance.
It was a hot and sunny summer. Some would say it was a heat wave and a drought. And we started to see signs of stress in vineyards in certain sectors. Things were better where there was a little rain. But August was bone dry. In fact, there was no rain from June 15th to the end of October.
It was about this time that comparisons to 2015 cropped up. You could see ripeness rapidly approaching, and there was talk of harvest starting at the end of August.
The vines were incredibly healthy; no moisture means no threat from mildew or odium. No rot. Good ripeness.
And, for the first time since 2009….a normal yield! So, let the harvest begin!
And it did, in the last days of August. What was most astonishing right from the start was that the perceived acidity levels seem OK. Granted, there’s no malic acid, but the levels of tartaric acid seem to be compensating, and there is an over-all impression of balance.
Also amazing was the amount of juice the Chardonnay crop produced. Not only was the yield bigger than the past 10 years’ average, but the amount of juice set a record for Burgundy. So there will be a lot of 2018 around.
And all this in a year that felt more like the south of Spain than Burgundy as we know it. The only thing we can attribute the quality of 2018 to is the abundant winter rains, and the vine’s ability to go searching for water when it needs it.
BURGUNDY 2017 VINTAGE
If 2016 tested the faith and resolve of wine makers in Burgundy, 2017 has to be seen as recompense, and as a miracle of sorts. While the rest of wine-growing Europe suffered crippling late-spring frosts in 2017, Burgundy for the most part (for once!) survived.
A mild winter and an accelerated spring left the Burgundy vineyards in a vulnerable position when, in the second half of April, temperatures across France barely rose above freezing for two weeks.
Three hard-frost nights pretty much did in Right Bank Chablis once again. But as the rest of Burgundy survived the first week, the growers found the will to fight back. And on the night of April 27th, a year and a day after the 2016 frost that took 80% of the 2016 harvest, a severe frost was forecast for the length of the Cote d’Or.
It’s now a part of local legend how, on the following morning, we awoke in a thick cloud of smoke. In the early hours, from north to south, the vignerons had mobilized to set alight dampened bales of hay, sending up a cloud cover to filter the first burning rays of dawn. And it worked.
The air was thick, and driving was tricky. A customer at the butcher shop in Meursault jokingly asked for a smoked chicken. And, of course, the authorities were up in arms over the pollution risks. But the crop was saved, and there has been ever since a spirit of cooperation and solidarity not often seen in farming communities.
After the freeze, May brought in an extended period of warm dry weather. No mildew or oidium to speak of, no thunderstorms or hail. Sunny periods, but no lack of rain. And the vines went in to flower at a very-normal first week of June. Pretty much ideal.
July had a couple of heat spikes, and a hailstorm hit the fancy vineyards in Morey St Denis on the 10th. But nothing worse. August was warm; the lead up to the harvest at the end of the month, hot and dry.
The first grapes were picked in the Cote de Beaune in the last few days of August. And most everyone was out picking in the first week of September.
There was (as there often is in Burgundy) serious disagreement in 2017 about when to pick. Do you pick early to preserve the acid-sugar balance and freshness? Or do you hang in there and wait for a little rain to kick-start a stalled photosynthesis, and thereby achieve the holy grail of phenolic maturity?
It’s hard to say who was right. There are very good wines coming from both camps. But there are iffy wines too. And that’s the key to understanding 2017.
Picked early, the best wines, both red and white, are fresh, fruit-driven and floral with long minerality. The iffy wines seem not have adjusted for the solid levels of tartaric acid which left them tart rather than bright, dry and tannic rather than juicy.
Picking late did not seem to have an effect on the balance between alcohol and acidity. But then, there was no ‘over maturity’ in 2017. The extra phenolic maturity seems to mean more density and riper tannins, with no sign of flabbiness.
The whites shine, particularly in hard-done Chablis (where there is better balance even than the marvelous 2014s). In the rest of Burgundy, the whites have the tension of 2014 but the open flattery of 2015.
The reds are juicy and crisp and open, and the regional appellations will be ready to drink soon. More serious appellations will be considered ‘typical’, in the best sense of the word: classic wines from a vintage that Burgundians will love. They are likely to be lost in the hub-bub that the 2018s will bring. But the yields were good in 2017, so you will be able to find them for a while. And you’ll do well to seek them out.
BURGUNDY 2016 VINTAGE
If that first taste of the 2016 Burgundy vintage really grabs your attention, count yourself lucky. Lucky in the same way that wine makers in Burgundy consider themselves lucky.
The excellent 2016 vintage was a nightmare for them, running a gamut of emotions from depression to despair, then out the other side towards hope and something resembling jubilation. It’s no exaggeration to say that 2016 took its toll on the collective psyche of the region.
After a very mild winter, April was frigid, with early hail in Macon and (yet again) Chablis. Then, on the night of the 26th, a freak frost descended on much of the Cotes de Nuits and almost all of the Cote de Beaune. I say ‘freak’ because it was a winter frost, not an April frost; meaning that it hit higher up the slopes than a spring frost would, touching vineyards that almost never freeze, notably Musigny and Montrachet.
It got worse. May was cool and depressingly wet, with storms when it wasn’t drizzling. It’s then that the first corridors of mildew appeared. It hailed again in Chablis. The mood was like the weather: chilly and grey. And it continued like this until the solstice, by which time the estimates were for an overall 50% crop loss across the region. It was hard to coax a smile from even the most seasoned winemakers.
Flowering took place in mid-June and was a bit protracted. It forecast a late September harvest, 100 days away. And given what had come before, the small crop looked incredibly vulnerable.
But with the solstice came summer. A magnificent July and August, with heat enough to curb the mildew, brought exceptional conditions for grapes. Talk in the cellars turned from tales of woe to the benefits of low-yield vintages.
As always in Burgundy, September makes the wine. In 2016, the perfect amount of rain fell on September 14th, at the perfect time to counter the heat stress that the vines were starting to show. And the fruit then ripened quickly in impeccable dry and sunny conditions.
What in mid-June seemed like a doomed crop was suddenly being touted as the equivalent of 2015, and maybe even better! Low yield years give intensity and concentration. Cool vintages give good acidity and balance. 2016 was both. Not a lot of fruit; but from serious ‘vignerons’, what there was was beautiful.
The wines, both red and white, are fresh, chiseled, with balanced acidity and concentration. The whites are definitely better than the 2015s, which lacked a touch of acidity. They are cool and energetic. Maybe not to the level of the fabulous 14s, but there are many similarities.
As to the comparisons between 2015 and 2016, many commentators cite 1990 and 1991. Both 1990 and 2015 are considered among the finest red vintages in living memory. And the vintages that followed them were both low-yield vintages that suffered early frost damage. Both 1990 and 2015 were hot years; both 1991 and 2016 were relatively cool. Both 1990 and 2015 were media darlings, and still are. 1991 got lost in the blare; maybe 2016 as well. But both 1991 and 2016 are arguably much more typically Burgundian than their world-stage predecessors. Classy and classic, ‘typical’ (in the best sense of the word), the greatest fault of the 2016 vintage could be its irregularity.
BURGUNDY 2015 VINTAGE
We have resisted writing the Elden Selections Burgundy 2015 harvest report until now (April 2017), mainly to let the hub-bub and hyperbole settle down, but more importantly to be sure that the claims we are about to make are justified. We’ve seen too many vintages vaunted as ‘the year of the century’, when really the wines simply showed well young. Burgundy 2015 is a truly extraordinary vintage. The reds are rich, ripe, balanced and powerful. And from all over the region they express chiseled, focused terroir. Despite their youthful seductive charm, these are wines to keep, with serious ripe tannins already melted into explosive fruit.
Comparisons have been drawn with the 2005 vintage, though there is more concentration in the 2015s than in the 2005s. Like a caterpillar changing to a butterfly, great vintages often go to sleep in the bottle. And 2005 is just reawakening from several ‘dumb’ years. It’s been worth the wait. The wines have metamorphosed. 2015 might be similar. And if the comparison is apt, investors in 2015 should appreciate the youthful beauty of this great vintage now, but be prepared to be patient.
That said, 2005 was no ‘year of the century’. But 2015 is also being compared to 1990, which arguably was. And I hear that Michel Lafarge, one of Burgundy’s respected elders, says he remembers drinking 1929s, and he draws parallels. The whites are a bit more uneven, and early reports claimed that the vintage lacks acidity. Certainly, these are wines which are riper and more luxuriant than the exquisite purity of 2014 white Burgundy. But there is no risk that well-made wines will be overly ample or flabby. The best wines will have benefited from the barrel. Comparisons are drawn to 1985, one of the great vintages in white.
The heterogeneity in 2015 white Burgundy is due to the tricky growing season, which was mostly hot and dry, but which cooled significantly in September. Was it better to pick early or late? And did the wine deserve more or less barrel aging? These are questions which will be answered producer-by-producer, bottle-by-bottle over the coming years. But what is clear is that they 2015s are concentrated, fresh and structured.
We believe that to understand a vintage, it is important to look at the weather. Because Burgundy is a single-grape wine, the only thing that changes from year to year in a producer’s vineyard is the weather. So we look for patterns and try to analyze what makes a good year, a bad year…and in this case, an excellent year.
The winter of 2014-2015 was uneventful. It was never really cold, but when it was, it was dry. Mostly it was mild, so we had more rain than snow. We would need the replenished water reserves in the long hot summer ahead.
April was warm and dry, and bud-burst took place early. Mornings in May were sunny, afternoons cloudy, and overall cool and dry. The vines began to flower in the last week of the month, so we knew we were looking at a harvest in early to mid-September.
In early July, the mood started to mount towards hopeful. The weather had been steady, dry and cool. But slowly during the month, temperatures began to rise, and in the last week of July hit 30C. The flowering had been successful, so there was a good crop on the vines.
Day after day of warm dry conditions brought drought considerations into play. But no hail for once! August continued in this way. Hot and dry. A little welcome rain later in the month, but just enough to keep the stress levels down. But no storms or hail. And extremely healthy fruit on the vine. No rot, no mildew, no odium. The mood was optimistic, even euphoric.
Harvest ostensibly started the first Monday of September. And days later the weather broke, and a cool period set in for ideal harvest conditions, stabilizing acidity levels. It stayed this way until September 12th when the first serious rain in two months fell in the southern part of the region. Harvest was disrupted for a few days, but the 19th, it was pretty much all over.
BURGUNDY 2014 VINTAGE
2014 was a year for maxims in Burgundy. One was the ‘don’t count your chickens’ warning. And another, a keystone in Burgundy wine making, was ‘September makes the wine’. Simple truths to heed.
After three very small harvests, Burgundy urgently needed to fill its cellars. And despite some heart-breaking setbacks and a growing season that was jumbled in disorder, a decent amount of wine was produced. Not enough, of course. But ‘correct’, as the French would say.
There was no winter to speak of, followed by a mild and sunny period from February through April that saw some rain, but less than normal. The vine got going early, and talk was of a late August harvest.
But May was cool and rainy, which slowed the development. The vine began to flower in the last week of May in the southern part of the region. So at that point, counting the traditional 100 days from flowering to harvest, picking would start in early September. The weather during the flowering period was sunny and warm with just enough rain for this critical period to unfold and to finish.
And then early June was hot. Summer hot. As June was in 2003, some have said. This speeded things up. The flowering in the northern part of the region, and in those vineyards at higher altitudes, got a kick that would help them to phenolic maturity later.
With these conditions, fruit began to appear soon thereafter, and by the end of June small grapes had formed and clustered. The hot dry conditions however led to both millerandage (unevenly formed bunches made up of normal grapes and thick-skinned seedless berries ) and coulure (buds that never flowered), both of which reduce the overall crop, but which can give concentration to the remaining fruit.
Flowering and fruit set was certainly among the earliest of the past twenty years, with as much as a week head start on what would be considered normal here. And if you compare 2013 to 2014, we were three weeks in advance.
Then disaster struck. At the end of June, a series of violent hail storms ripped through the region. One in the Cote de Nuits, where parts of Nuits and Chambolle-Musigny were hit with 20% crop loss. The other two in the Cote de Beaune: the first, widespread, ranging from Meursault in the south and on up to the Corton Mountain and Savigny les Beaune, caused substantial damage; the other, painfully localized, tore through the premier cru hillsides of Pommard and Volnay. The latter was the newsmaker, with up to 80% crop damage in some sectors, but also because this was the third consecutive year that Pommard and Volnay had been seriously damaged. There have been subsequent financial worries for small producers who were not insured.
Yet, despite these disasters, from Macon to Chablis there was a serious crop on the vines. Weather in July was mixed. Hot and sunny, then cloudy and cool. Constant rumblings of thunder in the distance kept everyone on edge.
Hail damage often leads to mildew, so vigilant vineyard work was crucial as the rains came and August turned cool, wet and gloomy, more like winter than the previous winter had been. Maturity stalled on the vine. And with the ever-present risk of rot cast a pall on the chill August air.
As we reached September, with fingers crossed, Burgundians put their hopes in the maxim that ‘September makes the wine’. Because in 2014, it was make or break. We needed a glorious September, and that’s exactly what we got. Light, warm northerly winds. Warm days, cool nights. Everything needed to salvage the potential mess that August had served up. In the end, we had the best harvest conditions that we have seen in many years.
Picking started on 8 September in the south, around the 15th in the Cote and Chablis, and finished around the 26th in the Hautes Cotes.
The crop came in healthy. There was no rot. And with normal sorting work in the winery (mostly where there had been hail damage) we brought in one of the healthiest harvests in recent years. The whites are balanced and intense. The reds show good ripe fruit. Some say the best vintage since 2009. A miracle!
BURGUNDY 2013 VINTAGE
Burgundy 2013 was yet another small crop. The fourth in as many years. Some of it will be very good, in both red and white. But for some producers it was a disaster. As we always do, let’s start with a run-down of the weather conditions over the growing season (what the locals tellingly call ‘the campaign’).
Winter was wet and hung on stubbornly. March snow gave way to a few spring-like days, and everyone thought the worst was over. But no. April was cold and wet. May was the wettest on record. We posted photos of ducks swimming in the flooded vineyards. And winter gloom and temperatures persisted.
June was better, but just. Flowering started in the early part of the month, but with the cool wet conditions it was erratic and irregular. Lots of coulure and millerandange as a result. These aborted grapes would be one of the reasons for a small 2013 yield, and would come in to play in the final outcome at harvest.
Summer arrived late in the month. But even the warm temperatures and relatively fine weather did little to dispel the feeling of instability. There was nothing consistent to make you feel like you could just settle in to grape growing.
Then in the third week of July, high pressure and high humidity built up to a series of storms, the most violent of which tore out of the Savigny valley on the 23rd. Like a military gunship, the hail storm swept across the Savigny vines, hit Pernand on the west side of the Corton Mountain and headed south across Beaune, Pommard and Volnay. Producers tell us it lasted almost half an hour. It was the second year running that Pommard and Volnay were ravaged.
The humidity continued into August, and producers up and down the Cote nervously watched the sky. The big fear now was that damaged grapes would rot of mildew and odium, so preventive spraying intensified. If there was a bright spot in the growing season, it was the dry spell in mid-August. The damaged grapes shriveled and dropped off the vine, making the inevitable sorting at harvest more manageable.
Yields were tiny, even in the areas not ripped by hail. But the quality of the fruit was good going into September in the Cotes de Nuits and the white wine production south of Beaune, as well as in the Chalonnaise, Maconnais and Chablis.
Most of the harvest came in in the first weeks of October, the latest Burgundy vintages since 1991 and 1978. Maturity arrived at the end. Slowly at first, just like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay like it to be. But that slow maturity turned into a gallop, especially for the whites. From Macon to Chablis, the quality of 2013 whites comes down to crucial decisions about when to pick in the final few days.
Two months prior to harvest, the mood was gloomy. And granted, those poor producers who got slammed in July will suffer for years. (Some say that another small crop in 2014 could force some out of business.) But there is quality in many cellars. The reds will be highly variable, but the best wines (from domains that sorted the harvest carefully as it came to the cuverie) are fresh, deeply colored and beautifully ripe, with balance that seems apt for long aging. As always, you have to know who made the wine. There is more consistent quality in the whites across the board. Some say an excellent exciting year.
BURGUNDY 2012 VINTAGEWhat a surprise! To say today that the 2012 harvest produced, not just a good Burgundy vintage but an exceptional one, beggars belief.
Here in Burgundy it is often said that June makes the quantity and September makes the quality. And 2012 was a classic example. But because 2012 was such a lousy growing season, and because the wine is just so good, folks are trying to understand why and how that can be.
Here’s how we saw it. It all started well before the sap started to rise in the vines. February was frigid. We had two consecutive weeks where the temperature did not rise above freezing. Our producers tell us that this polar period may have had an important effect on what was to come, notably the poor flowering later in June.Then March was just about all the springtime we had. In fact it was more like summer than summer was. And with those warm dry sunny days, the vines leapt into action. The sap rose and the buds burst well before the end of the month. Everyone was talking about an August harvest! It was, considering what was to come, a glorious time.
Then April brought radical change. A four month period of gloomy cold and wet set in. It rained one day in three until July. And during this time a series of hailstorms shattered the vineyards, especially in the south. The vines flowered in early June, but this was slow and drawn out over the course of the month. Because of this, a lot of the flowering failed. Every incident, it seemed, reduced the potential yield of the crop. Many producers reported as much as 50% crop loss. Some, in the areas worst hit by hail, were almost wiped out.
Then it got warm and the threat of rot turned to reality. Mildew and oidium were rampant. Producers later said that if you were late with copper sulfate treatments in 2012 it was fatal. Then it got hot. And grapes literally grilled on the vine in August, scorched by the heat.
The locals are saying that every month claimed its part of the crop. So the first thing to remember about 2012 is that it is a small harvest, and a very small harvest in certain zones. But what happened next saved the day for what remained on the vine.
Mid-August was hot and sunny, and this continued until well in to of September. The well-watered vines fed what grapes remained, and sugar levels shot up dramatically. It felt like a time of healing. The crop was made up of small clusters of grapes with very thick skins, with lots of space between the berries to allow them to expand and to let air circulate.
So with a healthy albeit small crop on the vines, and what appeared to be stable weather conditions, the producers felt safe that they could wait for ideal maturity. And when harvest began in the latter half of September, the grapes were in good condition. Which is just as well, because halfway through it started to rain and got cold. The worry again was rot. But the thick-skinned grapes were resistant, and the cool temperature kept botrytis at bay.
Those cool final days had another advantage. The fruit was brought to the winery at an ideal temperature to allow a few days of cool maceration before fermentations started, slowly and gently. So from the very start, these wines have shown brilliant color and delicate aromas.
BURGUNDY 2011 VINTAGE
2011 is notable not just because it was an early harvest, but because of its wacky weather. While the East Coast of the US was sweltering in 100°+ at the end of July, Burgundians were wearing sweaters wondering what the heck was happening. We'd just been through a couple of weeks of way-too- much rain and sub-70° temperatures that had followed three months of no rain and the sort of heat you would expect in August. It was an early spring jump-start for the vines, which flowered precociously. First calculations had the harvest beginning in the latter half of August. Bountiful fruit set beautifully, with just a touch of millerandage to give the grapes space to grow and keep the bunches well aerated. At that point, there was no risk of mildew, and treatments could be kept to a minimum. Aside from cursing the expected early harvest (meaning, no vacation this year), the growers were thrilled. But as the rain continued into August, followed by a worrying stormy period, suddenly everyone was looking at the sky. No one was worried...not yet. But we really needed some sun soon. The harvest projection got pushed into early September. But even early September is early. So a lot of intuition went into determining the date of the harvest: to wait or not to wait? This was the question that all of Burgundy was asking in the last weeks of August. The harvest was ultimately spread out across several weeks, with parcels harvested as they came to maturity. Sunshine and dry conditions in September rewarded those who were patient.
The whites have aromatic purity, with clear, frank aromas of citrus fruits and delicate floral notes. A good level of acidity makes the wines fresh and expressive. Good balance, pleasant roundness, and a notable expression of terroir. Maturity will bring complexity to these wines, but they are enjoyable young.
These are seductive wines with a intense color. There is a broad range of aromas: fresh red fruits with soft, spicy notes. Good balance with round supple tannins. The potential for laying down the wine will vary depending on the appellation and the producer. However, this is a very pleasant and charming vintage which will be enjoyable young.
BURGUNDY 2010 VINTAGE
Burgundy 2010 is a small harvest, even smaller than expected. Uneven flowering and a subsequent cold snap in early summer meant that all but the best-exposed vineyards gave greatly diminished yields. The exceptions are…exceptional. Michel Arcelain in Pommard (who completed his 64th harvest that year!) told us that while his village Beaune ‘Siserpe’ was down a third in quantity, his Beaune 1er Cru ‘Clos des Mouches’ gave him the same as last year. It’s the exposition, he says. And that, in short, is what makes it a premier cru.
A hot and cold summer combined with (in the Côtes) too much moisture brought the threat of rot, and meant that the growers had to be particularly vigilant with their treatments, and then again at the sorting tables. Meaning even less crop. Most unusual of all, the harvest did not come to maturity by color. Usually it's red and then white. In 2010 growers alternated harvesting between Pinot and Chardonnay as the parcels reached maturity. Some even sent their pickers home for a few days in mid-harvest.
But the good producers did not complain (much), because the quality is there. With good natural sugar levels, and remarkably tame acidity, the wines were promising right from the outset. Both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay like to come to maturity slowly, and 2010 gave them this opportunity. So if the phyto-sanitary side was seen to (which is what it means to be one of the good producers), we are looking at rich bright voluminous wines, both red and white, and from south to north.
2010 is a year for whites. From the north to the south of Burgundy, the whites show the whole range of expression of Chardonnay. These are balanced wines with freshness and purity, and refined minerality. This is a Chardonnay as the Burgundians like it. The Chablis are superb!
Delicious reds in a classic style, with excellent balance between fruit, acidity and tannins. Compared to 2009, the 2010s are less rich but more precise. Compared to 2008, they are richer and more balanced. Precision and purity, character and depth; and above all elegance. Many producers have told us that they prefer their 2010s to their 2009s. Again, 2010 is Burgundy as the Burgundians like it.
BURGUNDY 2009 VINTAGE
Our earliest tastings of the 2009s were either of raw bubbling juice or, a bit later, from barrel samples that still had lots of gas in them. It's a rare vintage where winemakers will let you taste wines right after the alcoholic fermentation has finished. Wines at that stage tend to be all over the place, and only tolerant palates can cut through the mire. Last Fall however the winemakers were shoving a glass into your hand and leading a conga line through the cellars. Comparisons are being made to 2005, 1999 and even 1990, all great years; and all years where the wines were accessible right from the outset. Vincent Rapet at Rapet Pere et Fils explained it best. All of these vintages (including the 2009) were reasonably hot growing seasons. Not so hot as to cook out acidity altogether; but hot enough that the plants started to absorb their fruit's acids. The acidity that goes first, the first to be absorbed, is malic acid. That’s the acid that usually gets transformed into lactic acid in the second, malo-lactic, fermentation. So if there’s not a lot of malic acid in the first place, the difference between the wine before and after malo is diminished, and sometimes hardly discernible. These wines are therefore charming, seemingly finished, right off the mark. What's crucial to a great vintage (in terms of balance, structure and longevity) is tartaric acid. And in 2009 (as in these other great vintages) we’re at just about ideal levels of tartaric. So as these wines were released in the bottle, we started drinking them young and lustily.
Structure is not the word! Both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from north to south sing with bright precise fruit.
In the whites, Chablis is honeysuckle and river rock. The whites from around the Corton mountain are suave, smoky and nutty. Further south, whites from the 'golden triangle' (Puligny, Chassagne and Meursault) are cut and distinct, and have classic balance; ideal for laying down, but juicy and charming in their youth.
The Pinots are mostly a beautiful deep, brilliant ruby. Impressive aromas of ripe red and black fruits are highlighted with spice. Complexity and depth are obvious even in youth. Good balance, round, silky tannins and rich finish.
BURGUNDY 2008 VINTAGE
2008 was another summer to forget. Not so bleak as 2007, but dreary nonetheless. And worse, the rot took hold. Spring and early summer were wet and miserable. Flowering was late and erratic, meaning that the harvest would be late and erratic. July was normal: sunny and warm, relatively dry. More rain in August though slowed maturity. Worse, the weather turned stormy and there was considerable hail damage. The damaged grapes were prone to oidium and rot as the wet weather continued. Once again, going into September, the mood in the cellars was somber. Then, in a repeat of the ‘miracle of 07’, summer returned with the north wind. The rain let up, the sun shone; the vineyards dried out and the rot dried up. The damage had already been done however, and an already small crop was further diminished on the sorting tables. There is an element of luck in any successful 08 Burgundy: hail strikes indiscriminately. But once again, those who did not do the vineyard work were penalized. Many growers did not even bother to harvest, the rot was so rampant. There is much disagreement about the quality of vintages like 2008 Those who want every year to be 2005 will never understand Burgundy. 2008 was certainly a surprisingly good year for whites; like the 07s but fatter. It’s the reds that may cause concern. Only the most severe sorting (some producers say they ditched half the crop) will keep the taste of ‘botrytis’ out of the bottle. But more and more producers see that quality is their trump card, and have been able to make Burgundy as it should be made: with hard work and humility.
BURGUNDY 2007 VINTAGE
2007 was a most curious year. After a dry mild winter, summer came in April with four sunny weeks. Flowering took place three weeks early. Then the rest of the summer was rotten. Those who did not assiduously follow their treatments had a real mess on their hands. Even the best farmers were in trouble. When we left for Italy at the end of August, the Burgundy wine world was in mourning. After three months of really wet conditions, the vines were ripe….ripe for mildew and rot. But because the temperatures remained cool, the spread of rot was slowed. Lack of sun let the grapes develop thick skins, which in the end resisted splitting. Then came the ‘miracle’: the north wind blew in and the sun returned for two months of glorious autumnal weather, allowing the crop to dry out and ripen slowly. The harvest took place early (a hundred days after the precocious flowering), but under ideal conditions. The ‘bad’ growers had to pick, for fear of rot; the ‘good’ producers would wait for phenolic maturity. The grapes needed careful sorting before they could be vatted; but overall, for those who did their vineyard work, the harvest was safe and sound. For our part, 2007 is perhaps the most ‘Burgundian’ vintage in memory. Good producers got the phenolic maturity needed to express ‘terroir’, and at the same time were able to keep the lacy finesse that is characteristic of fine Burgundy. Reds show as well as whites, but as always, you have to know who made the wine.
BURGUNDY 2006 VINTAGE
If wine is the bottled essence of a year, let’s uncork 2006. Winter was glacial, and the winemakers couldn’t have been happier. These were, in fact, the only ‘ideal’ conditions 2006 was to offer. ‘Ideally’, Nature should then re-awaken gradually in March and April, the plant ‘weeping’ as the sap gushes to cauterize pruning wounds, forcing the buds to swell. What we got instead was dismal cold and soggy wet on through to the end of May. Vegetation stagnated, and you could fairly smell the mildew in the air. June in turn was beautiful. Hot, dry conditions saw the retarded vines burst into flower practically overnight. The vineyards exploded with green growth that galloped along as the producers struggled to keep control. July hit and was torrid, a heat wave worthy of 2003. As the grape skins thickened, the growers talked warily of another late-August harvest. How wrong they were. August waned autumnal and deteriorated. Cold and rain halted the vine’s progress yet again. The risk of rot was back (it’s never a good sign to be picking mushrooms in August), and as the bad weather dragged on, a gloomy resignation settled in. Burgundy was not a happy place when the sun returned with September. Resignation turned to panic when the heat turned August’s rain to sweltering humidity. The vines took off again, this time hurtling towards maturity at an astonishing rate, those thick skins near bursting, and grey rot not far behind. The growers walked a razor’s edge as the difference between ripeness and over-maturity often came down to hours, not days. When the crop was ready, it was ready; not the day before, not the day after. Golden grapes turned brown seemingly overnight. Picking teams worked furiously to get the harvest in before sugar levels went through the roof. It was ‘do or die’. And then it was over. Nature had served up a riotous 2006 vintage.
BURGUNDY 2005 VINTAGE
Nature handed Burgundy a nearly perfect harvest in 2005. After the bumper crop of 2004, Burgundy settled into a long, cold winter; the first real winter in years. A hard snap right at the end lasted well into March. It seems that the harsh weather was a tonic for the vines, killing off pests and setting off a lively rebirth of vegetation. The sap rose sharply and the crop set without any threat of frost when the shoots were vulnerable. April and May were rainy and cool; the vegetation slowed and the water table got a needed top-up. The last weekend in May was unseasonably hot, and the vineyard erupted into flower. The hot spell was short-lived and the cool weather returned, plunging the flowering into a sort of suspended animation. This led to millerandage (a partial abortion of the flower producing smaller grape berries and hence naturally lower yields). The end of June was warm, but July and August were not. Drought became a worry in young vines and in vineyards without much soil depth. Rainfall levels were below average for the entire growing period (with the exception Chablis). But this was a drought, and not a heat wave (as in 2003), and vines flourish in such harsh conditions. The cool weather meant that hail was not a major factor…with the sad exception of some serious damage in Chassagne-Montrachet and Santenay. It also meant that the grapes came slowly to maturity with thick skins and ripe pips. Early September was hot, and there was a timely rain. The harvest was set to begin mid-month and the weather cooperated, allowing growers to decide for themselves their ideal harvest date. The crop was healthy; harvest conditions were pleasant; there was little need for triage; and the juice of both red and white grapes had a refreshing minerality. Pinot macerations gave great color quickly, and even at the earliest stages the wines had that sort of tension that tells you it’s alive.
To some, this all might sound like nothing more than a weather report. But to a winemaker, it’s the litany of quality. A cold winter, in addition to killing off pests, has the advantage of keeping the sap down. The sap rising after the vines have been pruned is like a kick start to the vegetative cycle. And when that happens literally overnight, there is vigor in the vine right from the start. This means a healthy setting and nourishing of fruit buds leading up to flowering. Flowering is crucial, determining how much and what sort of fruit the vine will bear. It also ‘pre-determines’ the approximate harvest date. Millerandage is one of the earliest visible signs of a good crop. Grapes will run rampant if you let them, and so much of the work in the vines is done to control yields. Millerandage is Nature’s ‘green harvest’…and more: it thins the density of the grape berries, giving bunches more air circulation, hence less risk of mildew and rot; it also causes the plant to produce smaller grape berries, less likely to burst and with more phenolic potential. After the fruit is set, both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay love a long, slow maturation; not too hot, not too wet. Light is more important than heat. A little rain at the right time is better than regular dowsing. Get it right, and you go into September with a small number of thick-skinned grape bunches, well aerated and rot-free. Now you need some heat and that judicious amount of water. Then you pray for clear skies and a bit of a breeze for the next couple of weeks. Harvest. Make wine. Nothing to it! That was 2005.