Thursday, 10 December 2015

Burgundy 2014 Vintage Report - Matthew Hemming MW


In 2015 I twice visited the Cote d’Or to taste the 2014 vintage.  In mid-September our arrival coincided with an opening of the heavens that saw those pickers late to bring in the last of the crop soaked to their skins and labouring in soil that quickly turned to mud.  Visit number two, started with crisp Autumn sunshine but finished cold, grey and miserable and I was glad of my coat and hat.  All that said, I left with the impression that the sun is finally starting to shine once again on the golden slopes.  After a run of decidedly dismal luck, things might just be looking up for the Burgundians and the dawn began to break with the 2014 vintage.


Since 2009, Burgundy has seen an outstanding harvest in 2010, an extremely good year in 2012 and very impressive – if less uniform – vintages in 2011 and 2013.  Quality aside, however, volumes have been shockingly low, Mother Nature has delivered blow after blow to producers, even as they were reeling from the previous ‘weather event’, and the mood in many a cellar has been black to say the least.  As soon as I walked into certain cellars, particularly in Volnay and Pommard, it was obvious that there were very few barrels to be tasted.  The statistic that drove it home was that many estates lost the equivalent of an entire year’s crop – which means income - within 4 short vintages.


The first suggestions of hope came in winter 2014 when I was tasting the 2013s, a vintage in which hail savaged a number of vineyards, destroying as much as 80% of the crop and meaning some cuvees simply could not be produced.  As we tasted the ‘13s, I could not help but notice that the barrels of ‘14 bubbling away in adjacent rows seemed rather more numerous.  Added to that, various vignerons seemed quietly very satisfied with the quality of their nascent ‘14s.

Skip forward to my September 2015 visit and all the talk was about the high quality of fruit harvested from the ‘15 vintage.  Most of the vats had only been fermenting for a couple of days but the excitement about the ‘15s was palpable.  Dawn did seem to be breaking on the troubled region.  If anything, it was difficult to prise producers away from their newest babies and get them to switch back to talking about the 2014s.  But to not pay the ‘14s the attention they deserve would be a serious mistake indeed.

2014 is not a big vintage but yields, in the most part, were back up to 2010 levels.  At the time, 2010 was regarded as a small crop, but that was before the horrors of 2011/12/13.  After the pitiful yields of those years, a return to 2010 volumes is a welcome increase, even if larger crops are still desperately needed.  The quality in 2014 is also very encouraging.  Far from big or concentrated wines, these are charming, supple and fragrant.  I found a few with absolutely pitch-perfect balance and a handful with the potential to become truly remarkable.

Unusually for me, I’ll begin with the whites as my expectations were blown out of the water by the quality I found in the wines.  Technically, analyses of 2014 whites are almost identical to those of the 2013s.  Structurally, especially in terms of acidity and pH, there is almost no difference year-on-year.  The 2014s, however, seem to have riper fruit and more ‘matter’ to balance the brightness of the high acidity.  The paradox is that, whilst there’s nothing fat or flabby about the 2014s they do seem to have more flesh on their bones to buffer their acids.  As a result the 2014 whites are lean and focused but with arguably better balance than some of the more angular 2013s.  In practical terms this means that some of the more junior appellations have found real success in 2014.  The Rully of Domaine Chartron and Dubreuil-Fontaine’s village level Pernand Vergelesses, in particular, feel far more generous and rounded this year, despite having almost identical acid levels to last year.

This year we welcome a far broader range of wines from Domaine Jean Monnier, based in Meursault.  Last year we listed their Meursault 1er Cru Genevrieres.  Following successful sales of that wine we visited the domaine back in September and are pleased to bring you their full range of whites.  These include a delicious Beaune 1er Cru blanc and across the range this estate offers very attractive value for money.  Amongst the more familiar names, Bachelet-Monnot continue to push the quality boundary each year.  Their Puligny Folatieres was utterly brilliant in ‘14 and, for the first time, we have also secured a good allocation of their 1er Cru Les Referts.  Customers with long memories will remember John Avery’s enthusiasm for the Referts produced by Remoissenet.  The grapes for that wine were sourced from the vines that now belong to Marc and Alex Bachelet, which is why Remoissenet no longer produce this cru.  I know that John loved the Bachelet-Monnot Referts on the occasions we tasted there together – it’s richer and more opulent than their Folatieres - and am delighted to have finally got an allocation for Averys.

The red wines in 2014 vary in quality, with the best bordering on outstanding.  Jean-Marie Fourrier, one of the region’s most considered and thoughtful winemakers – please contact me if you’re interested in an allocation of his spectacular wines – compares ’14 to the great 1999 vintage, finding a similar sweetness and density of fruit allied to structure.  Whilst Fourrier’s comment makes for an attractive marketing headline, and is worth noting as he’s not given to hyperbole, the wines with the potential to match ’99 were in the minority for my palate.  The common threads I found were for red - rather than darker-toned – fruit, supple tannins, lifted perfume and freshness.  As with the whites, the wines are sweeter and fleshier than last year in a way that balances their structure but without an ounce of excess fat on their frames. 

The upshot of all this is that 2014 is an extremely easy and charming vintage to taste.  There were far fewer reductive or awkward showings from barrel this year and even the notoriously surly wines of Henri Gouges were dominated by sweet, pure and expressive fruit.  At Domaine Grivot we were hosted by Mathilde and the wines, which can be extremely difficult to taste from barrel, provided about the most consistent and beautiful range I have ever seen from this producer – the Vosne 1er Cru Beaux Monts and Clos Vougeot particularly standing out as we crescendoed up to the ethereal Richebourg. 

The open and expressive style of the 2014s led to some questions about their potential longevity.  The tannin and acidity of these wines are finely woven into their textures, but they are present.  Despite being particularly sweet and delicate, I have no doubt that the tannins of most ‘14s will sustain them through at least the medium term – say 15+ years for Grand Crus – and, this being Burgundy, I’m sure plenty of wines will continue to surprise us in the years to come and last much longer.  That said, this is not, in general, a vintage for long maturation and there will be wines to drink whilst we continue to wait for the best of 2010 to come around.

We have attempted to make our 2014 range of reds cover as much ground – both geographical and stylistic – as possible.  We are listing wines from as far south as Givry and Dezizes-les-Maranges up to Fixin, on the outskirts of Dijon, in the north.  These range from those that will be ready to enjoy on release, in their first flush of youth, to the much more structured and serious wines of growers like Thierry Beaumont and Domaine Bertagna. 

After a run of hailed vintages we were delighted by the wines of Domaines Buffet and Voillot, both in Volnay.  It may seem strange to list two estates with such similar appellations, but the quality they are achieving justifies the listing and we are proud to be supporting two old friends after such difficult times.  Buffet’s Pommard 1er Cru Rugiens is one of the most extraordinary Cotes de Beaune wines on our list.  From vines 100+ years old, and grown on their own rootstock, a measure of wholebunch fermentation builds a tannin structure and mineral intensity that sets it apart from the crowd.  Slightly down the hill from Buffet, Jean-Pierre Charlot is acknowledged by many as an unsung hero of Burgundy.  A big man – former rugby player, now a devoted fan – he makes wines of delicacy and grace.  His Bourgogne Rouge, from vines around Volnay and Meursault, is about the best we tasted and a huge recommendation from our team.

It’s an unavoidable reality that Burgundy prices have been trending upwards for some years.  This is a natural consequence of the vintage conditions described above limiting production and soaring international demand for the best wines.  At the same time, Burgundian pricing has, in the main, been much more sober than that we have seen from Bordeaux, and FX gains have allowed the trade to soak up some of the pain.  The good news is that the word on the Cote is that price increases will be kept to a minimum.  A number of growers are talking about keeping ex-cellar prices at 2013 levels and others are talking about a rise of 3-5% at the most.  As ever there are those who will be more ambitious but they are very much in the minority.  The over-riding theme is that there is a recognition that the market might over-heat and, especially with an extremely strong vintage on the horizon, producers are looking to keep the ship on an even keel.  We will try to do our bit with the exchange rate.

In summary, 2014 is another exciting prospect for Burgundy lovers.  Whilst growers have had a tough time since 2010, those of us who buy and drink the wines have seen a run of worthy cellar candidates almost unbroken since 1994.  2014 isn’t at the level of 2010 but is probably better than 2008, 11 and 13, and about on a par with 2012, albeit in a less ripe, more gourmand style.  There are delicious whites to be had, some of the best in years, and reds that will charm and delight for a good couple of decades.  I would love to share our selection with you at our January tasting, so please join us in Bristol, roll up your sleeves, chat with some winemakers and taste some great wines.  I’m confident you will find plenty to put in the cellar for future drinking.
Attempting to do justice to the wines of an entire region in such a short report is near impossible but I hope I’ve furnished you with some useful morsels of information. If you’d like to chat further about the wines or vintage, do please get in touch – you can email me at finewine@averys.com or call 03330 148 210.

I look forward to hearing from you soon,

Matthew Hemming MW
 
 

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