2020 Burgundy En Primeur White Wines
2020 was a warm and dry season with an early harvest. We had some fears that everything would be concentrated, ripe and perhaps a little loose, a little flabby – particularly for the whites. Over the course of our visits and tastings it quickly became clear that this was not the case at all - and we were very happily surprised with what we found.
The harvest may have been the earliest on record for many domaines, but the headlines of a mid-August pick date is a little distracting when considering the wines, as this is no 2003. The growers in the Côte de Beaune picked their reds first in 2020 – it was mostly the Pinot Noir that took new records for a quick season. Indeed, some of the whites were picked later than in 2019. That year, excessive heat in August meant that the grapes could not stay on the vine for too long once it got hot with the ongoing spikes in temperature. 2020 was a far steadier season, particularly for the white grapes. It started early with a warm spring – and carried on warm and dry (too dry at times) right through until the end of August. Chardonnay flowers ahead of the Pinot Noir and was picked later – meaning that curiously for the white wines it was almost exactly the ‘normal' length of growing season (nearly 100 days). So, it was not really hot, and it was not really quick – which allowed good time on the vine and therefore good development of flavour and full phenolic ripeness, without too much stress.
The one issue that the fruit did have was drought. Thankfully a lack of water rather than too much heat is what dominated the Chardonnay grapes’ final physiology. Each berry was concentrated rather than over-ripe. Meaning that sugars and acidities were concentrated in equal measures. The whites from across the region are very good. Intense, sometimes ripe, sometimes deeply flavoured – but also with great freshness and poise. And it is this balance that is crucial, they are sure to have everything they need for a long and happy future. In fact, for the whites, 2020 is far closer to a ‘normal’, warm vintage than for some of the reds in the Côte de Beaune which experienced a really quite intense growth cycle and often suffered more from the drought. Chardonnay just bore the warmth and the lack of water better this year - retaining more juice in each berry than the Pinot Noir. The volumes are less impacted too. Problems with 2021’s meagre size does mean there are some growers who are limiting their releases this year, but on the whole the 2020 harvest was not particularly ‘short’ for the whites.
In white we found brilliant wines across the region and at every level. Yes, they may sometimes be quite ‘solaire’ in feel and flavour profile. Citrus notes tinged with the odd more tropical touch – pineapple and softer peach fruit were noted more than in some years – but for Chardonnay this is not an ‘extreme’ vintage – and the depth of flavour is tempered beautifully by the wonderful freshening acidity across the board.
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