2018 Burgundy Vintage Report

by Charles Lea

Burgundy-Vintage-Report

The Whites

The whites, produced from a welcome large harvest, are good to very good, a vintage which will be welcome in the market as much for the volume as for the quality. The grapes were in perfect condition at the harvest and it was possible to press hard and long. The ripeness of the year may give a front-of-mouth opulence, but behind that there is quite good acidity and the wines lengthen out and finish on a refreshing pithy phenolic density supported by the acidity – this should develop well in bottle. They will be immensely attractive quite early, but we will bet that, a bit like 2009, many from our top domaines will prove better in the cellar than current more general projections seem to imply.

Chablis

After a dearth of Chablis in recent vintages as the hail and frost-affected vintages reduced yields to pitiable levels, 2018 is the vintage the growers were really hoping for, so generous that even Grand Cru sites went over the maximum-permitted levels. Given the levels of ripeness, it is just as well the quantity is high, or the alcohol would have been hard to control. As it was our growers reported 13-13.5% as the norm and the wines have much more freshness than would one dare to dream of, given the reported heat of the summer and the long sunny days.

All our growers spoke of the need to get the harvest in swiftly as the sugar levels rose being the main challenge of the vintage. The Tributs said that the acidity was relatively low compared to the alcohol levels and that they did not want to keep the wines on the lees for too long. But generally we were impressed by these wines – you can complain that some are not in the most ‘classical’ mould, but if a Chablis still tastes fresh, even though it may be beginning to resemble a Puligny Montrachet in terms of body and richness, are you really going to moan that much?

Mâconnais

A classical growing season in the Mâconnais. The vines did not suffer from drought as there was much more rain here in August than there was further north. The result is wines which have a freshness and minerality which is at odds with the reputation of the vintage elsewhere. Yields were also restrained here – Frantz Chagnoleau reported 45-48hl/ha across his domaine, which is a lot less than in either Chablis or the Côte d’Or. Frantz said the 2018 wines were ‘fresher than 2017, citrus and minerals’, while Julien Barraud described the wines as ‘balanced, thirst-quenching, fresh – like 2016 or 2014’.

Chalonnais

Last year we were rather looking forward to offering a relatively abundant crop of 2018 vintage wines this spring, but the severe frosts of late April 2019, especially in Rully, have dealt a blow. Most producers will have to hold some back to ‘bridge the gap’. The Jacquesons reported being 65% down in white and 35% down in red in 2019, and as a result we have no more to offer than we had of the equally frost-affected 2016 and 2017 vintages. This is not a happy time for these vignerons. On the bright side for consumers, there is, as usual, great quality and great value in these whites, but you need to buy early to avoid disappointment. The Dureuil-Janthial wines will not be bottled until Feb-March and may not be released for sale before then.

Côte d’Or

2018 was a very high-yielding vintage across most of the Côte d’Or whites. The large harvest did not disappoint in quality either – we were delighted to find white wines with lots of up front weight and volume, finishing on pithy, almost tannic phenolics which will keep them fresh and evolve into more flavour with time. The vintage doesn’t quite have the intensity and longevity of a 2014, but although for the most part they will be ready to drink quite early, we think they may last longer in the cellar than many are giving them credit for at the moment.

Last year’s signing Joseph Colin has made some brilliant wines, and we are also very happy to be introducing Domaine de la Choupette, based in Santenay, where the Gutrin brothers are making excellent Puligny as well as Santenay, and a tiny volume of excellent Puligny from Jacqueline and Mathieu Collardot of Domaine Thomas-Collardot. We are also enormously looking forward to seeing Rémi Jobard’s concentrated and intense Meursaults at a slightly more advanced stage of their evolution at our January tasting.

The Reds

For the mostly excellent reds, the lack of drought means the wines are inclined to be much more sumptuous than 2003, with high colour and tannin levels – tannins that are sweetly ripe and completely enveloped in a feeling of silky generosity – so possibly more like 2009, but then again with more freshness and intensity. Really it’s like no other vintage anyone can remember, but Yves Confuron thinks the 1947s would have tasted like this when young!

There was definitely a choice to be made between harvesting early to keep the potential alcohol down, or waiting for phenolic maturity (which came late) and dealing with high sugar levels. Pick too early and the wines, even at 13.5%, could be green-edged; pick at full ripeness and the alcohols can be over 15%, although most are somewhere in between. If picking early, it was not possible to do much extraction for fear of extracting green pip tannins, if picking later the ripe stalks could go into the vat too, bringing a bracing additional ‘straightness’ and elegance. In a year when alcohols are relatively high, and acidities relatively low, the tannins can bring the balance and an impression of freshness – but it is a different freshness to the normal Burgundian freshness of acidity. Or perhaps it will turn out to be the new normal.

It was also possible to extract a lot from the very healthy harvest. Those who made wines by infusion still made wines with rich colour and sumptuous body; those who waited could stray further into a character that is still clearly Pinot, but with an expression more like wines from the Northern Rhône than we are all used to from the Côte de Nuits – but in this exotic style, hugely enjoyable and complete.

Chalonnais

Much the same comment as for the whites, the size of the harvest was ‘normal’ or even slightly on the low side, and the style of the wines is much more classical than further north as there was more rain, and more cloud cover. But this has produced some really fantastic quality here, with vibrant juicy wines which nevertheless are also extraordinarily and perfectly ripe. It’s the disappointment of the size of the 2019 crop which is the only thing putting a bit of a brake on the celebrations here.

Côte de Beaune

An extraordinary vintage for red in the Côte de Beaune, with no hail or frost, and, unlike the Côte de Nuits, they avoided mildew too. There was enough water in nearly all the vineyards after the wet winter and so it might even be described as a relaxed vintage from the point of view of the growers.

Much has and will be said about picking dates and alcohol levels, and if you read the comments on each domaine it is clear that they tended to follow their normal philosophies, either trying to keep elegance by picking relatively early, or going for complete phenolic ripeness, at which point acidities tended to be on the low side, and sugars high, but could be compensated by the freshness realisable from the inclusion of ripe whole bunches in the fermentations. Either way, there are truly astonishing wines here, some of which may be approachable young on the glossy ripe fruit, and others which will age effortlessly on the balance of the richness of the fruit and the super-ripe tannins. It’s not for nothing that growers were harking back to 1947 for a comparison.

Côte de Nuits

While it all ended well enough, it was not all plain sailing in the Côte de Nuits. The wet winter followed by a mild damp spring did give problems with mildew, especially to growers working organically – as Yves Confuron said, losses of crop at this stage, and again from the heat at the end, means that his yields can be quite low – and the concentration in his wines is all part of this. Like in the Côte de Beaune, trying to decide when to pick to have optimum phenolic ripeness meant having to accept high potential alcohols, but the inclusion of ripe, properly lignified stems has given back an elegance that might having otherwise been missing on some terroirs.

There are great long-lived wines, and there are wines that will be forward and flattering if drunk quite young, but most do have substantial concentration and tannins which, while very ripe and emollient, will help the wines to age.

In both the Cote de Nuits and the Cote de Beaune it’s worth paying particular attention to the Hautes Côtes, and to the simple Bourgognes, as it is these vineyards that benefit disproportionately from the extra ripeness of a very sunny year.

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