Thursday, 8 December 2016

Burgundy 2015 - Vintage Report

The 2015 vintage in Burgundy
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Burgundy is an informal place in comparison to Bordeaux, populated by farmers with dirty boots and fingernails rather than overseas investors with crisply ironed shirts and tailored suits.  That said, it would be a mistake to assume that the land of the Chevaliers du Clos Vougeot, mapped by monks in the Middle Ages, is free from a certain amount of etiquette.  

One manifestation of this is the reluctance I feel to ask producers to compare their new wines to previous vintages.  Whilst we British seem fixated on finding the next 2009, 2005, 1999 or 1990, it should appeal to our own – famous – reserve that there is something indelicate in asking someone to rate their latest ‘child’ against the elder siblings.  Social niceties aside, in pure winemaking terms it is clearly ridiculous to compare a 2015 wine to one made a decade before – vineyard techniques have changed, winemaking has changed, fashion has changed, even the climate is changing...

Every now and then, however, growers and winemakers volunteer their own thoughts on this thorny subject.  I rather like the default position that every year is different and that comparisons are rather fruitless but I do prick up my ears when opinions are offered.  Etienne Grivot talks about 2015 as having a similar weight and richness to 2012 but being fresher and more expressive.  Jean-Marie Fourrier introduced his – magical – 2015s as the children of 2009 and 2010.  These are two of the most considered winemakers I know in the Cote and their comments alone should tell you that 2015 has something pretty special to offer.

I have just returned from a beautiful, if cold-to-the-bone, week in Burgundy, tasting the 2015 vintage.  Some 25 domaines and 400-odd wines later, I am confident that this is an extremely exciting vintage, particularly for red wines.  Stylistically, there are reds of a rich, bassy nature that really emphasise the power and density of the hot and dry season.  Many of these will appeal to those yearning for the more powerful, traditional styles of yore.  At the same time, there are fresher, red-fruited wines that play much more in the treble register and demonstrate delicacy and lightness of touch.  When growers talk about 2010-style wines, this is what I understand them to mean as the wines are expressive, lithe and scented. 

In terms of whites, before I left I heard lots of chatter that they are too fat, broad and buttery to be classic Burgundy.  There are wines that show more tropical fruit ripeness and breadth than I want from Cote de Beaune but there are also estates that picked their fruit very early in order to lock in acidity, freshness and verve.  At Bonneau du Martray they had one of their earliest ever harvests and, when I asked Jean-Michel Chartron if he had started picking around the beginning of September he replied that they began before the end of August.  These producers have made some compelling white wines that I will be very pleased to have in my cellar.

An aspect of the 2015 vintage that I encountered up and down the Cote, and in both colours, is that many of the junior wines have seriously out-performed. Appellations such as Pernand Vergelesses, in the shadow of Corton Charlemagne, that can often struggle to achieve full ripeness have been able to harness the generosity of the vintage and smooth out the angular acidity and rustic tannins of lesser years.  In a similar fashion, the quality of generic Bourgogne seems much closer to village cuvees, village wines knock on the door of 1er Crus, and so forth.

‘The cleanest, healthiest fruit I have ever seen’ was a common refrain amongst the winemakers I asked about the 2015 vintage.  Vincent Beaumont, of Domaine des Beaumont, mentioned that they had only two people working on the sorting table last year, with little more to do than remove the odd stray leaf.  We joked that it was a vintage for lazy winemakers as the crop was in such good condition there was very little to be done in the winery.  The principal winemaking challenge seemed to be to manage the extraction as gently as possible, so as not to over-do it. 

2015 produced Pinot Noir with small berries and thick skins, which has translated into deeply coloured and intense wines of pronounced structure.  The best examples, to my mind, combine the intensity and richness of the vintage with a surprising delicacy of touch, fine-spun tannins and fresh aromatics.  Domaine Lamarche, where Nicole used 30% whole bunch fermentation across the range, provided some of the finest examples of this style; their wines were some of the highlights of my tastings and this address is now one of the very best in Burgundy.

All was not plain sailing for everyone, however.  Whilst villages such as Volnay, Pommard and Beaune escaped being hailed yet again in 2015, the devastation wreaked in previous years has sufficiently damaged the vines that yields have not yet returned to normal levels.  The cellars at Domaines Buffet and Voillot were both sparsely populated.  Where I often see barrels stacked three high there were two, and sometimes only a single row.

It was a slightly more complicated vintage for white wine, following the outstanding 2014s.  There are domaines that picked perhaps a week later than ideal and their wines have a broad, dull-edged quality that lacks acidity and drive.  That said, overall, the whites are better than I was anticipating.  There are plenty of charming, ripe, well-rounded wines that will drink beautifully whilst the 2014s are maturing.  In addition, there are a few truly outstanding white wine domaines that called their harvest dates perfectly and have made wines to rival their 2014s.  Both Jean Monnier’s Meursault Genevrieres and Bachelet-Monnot’s Puligny Montrachet Les Folatieres have wonderfully taut acidity to act as a foil to the richness of their wines.  Jean-Michel Chartron’s monopole 1er Cru Clos de la Pucelle was the best 2015 white I tasted, with a driving minerality that out-shone his single barrel of Le Montrachet.

Overall there is general agreement in Burgundy that 2015 has the makings of a great vintage.  The red wines are certainly favoured over the whites but that only seems fair after 2014, when the reverse was the case.  2015 rides a wave of a young winemakers that are just coming into their own – at Hudelot-Noellat, Lamarche and Buffet – and an older generation who are at the top of their game – Jean-Marie Fourrier, Ghislaine Barthod and Etienne Grivot.  The resulting wines are amongst the best young Burgundies I have ever tasted and this just might be the vintage to eclipse the remarkable 2010s.

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