The long, hot dry summer of 2019 created the perfect conditions in Burgundy for a bumper vintage. Bernard Hervet, former director of Faiveley and Bouchard, two of the biggest maisons in the region, went so far as to say that it could “perhaps rival 1865, the greatest vintage of all”. So, as my TGV pulled into Beaune station last month, I was excited to see if the hype was justified.
First the reds. The impact of the combination of low rainfall and above-average temperatures on the wines is certainly evident. Philippe Pacalet, a revered but maverick winemaker based in Beaune, told me the vintages between 2015 and 2020 resemble the great reds of 1945-49: “This climate brings more tannins, more acids, more sugars, more aromatics, more everything.” Tasting his extensive range of wines reveals quality and drama in abundance.
Gevrey-Chambertin also seems to have had a very good year – I was particularly impressed by the wines of one of its makers, Pierre Duroché. His 2019s resemble 2017 for their definition and red fruits but have more concentration, and pitch-perfect ripeness. Meanwhile, the wines of Pierre’s friend Charles Magnien, a grower firmly pushing into the front rank, are more gourmand in style but still more classic than 2018, with better acidity and more fresh Pinot character. Another standout from the village is Jane Eyre’s 1er Cru Les Corbeaux, while Gevrey giant Dugat-Py’s Charmes-Chambertin epitomises the best of the vintage: intensity, depth and precision.
Pommard, further south in the Côte de Beaune, appears to be another strong beneficiary of the hot weather, its heavier soils retaining sufficient moisture to keep the vines happy. Traditionally rather four-square in character, the wines are showing more supple fruit, and plusher, more polished tannins than ever before. Domaine de Montille’s 1er Cru Pommard “Les Pézerolles” is sensational. Meanwhile, I’m falling in love with nearby Corton Grand Cru, after trying a number of fine examples – with Romain Taupenot’s rich and powerful but precise Rognet being especially memorable.
Benoît Stehly, winemaker at Domaine Georges Lignier in Morey-Saint-Denis, claims to have made “the vintage of [his] lifetime”. His best harmonise the power of 2012, 2015 and 2018 with the elegance and definition of 2014 and 2017. The nearby village of Vosne-Romanée, the jewel in the crown of the Côte de Nuits, has produced gorgeous, intense, richly perfumed elegant superstars – for those with deep pockets, there is an abundance of thrilling, lip-smacking Echezeaux Grand Cru to consider.
Meanwhile, the traditionally slightly more rustic, earthy wines from neighbouring Nuits-Saint-Georges are benefiting from the warmer summers in much the same way as Pommard, continuing to produce wines that are increasingly sophisticated as well as satisfying.
Deep roots that can stretch for water in the hard limestone bedrock and canopies of foliage acting as a sunshade are protecting Côte-d’Or vineyards against extremes of drought and heat. At the same time, historically overlooked sites with less sunny aspects or heavier water-retentive clays are demanding more attention, precisely because the new climate is shining more light on them. I was really encouraged by the outstanding quality of these more affordable appellations like Fixin, Marsannay, Savigny-lès-Beaune, Ladoix, Santenay and the Hautes-Côtes de Nuits.
I’m confident the reds have lived up to their early promise, and am calling the vintage “a supercharged classic”. Instead of the density of 2018, 2019 wines favour concentration and depth, while remaining focused, vibrant and with greater transparency to their terroirs. This also holds true for the whites – which have turned out extremely well too. In fact, I can’t recall such a stellar year for both colours since 2010.
In Chassagne Montrachet, Philippe Colin’s 1er Cru whites are powerful with waxed apples, yellow plum and salty farmyard butter, but remain fresh and vital. They have the matière (richness and density) and intensity of the great 2014s with more of the generosity of the warmer vintages. One particular white highlight was Edouard Delaunay’s Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Les Referts – the nose of ripe orchard fruit and brioche immediately recalled the 1996 that made me fall in love with white Burgundy 20 years ago. It was no shock to learn Delaunay’s winemaker Christophe Briotet has been named an IWC winemaker of the year 2020.
Very hot summers can lead to wines in which the subtle qualities of the terroir are lost but this has not happened in Chablis, where the best, like Christian Moreau’s Les Clos Grand Cru, show the precision and crushed oyster shell salinity one craves. Meanwhile, the southerly Chalonnaise vineyards are actively benefiting from climate change, as the sun shines bright on these traditionally less hallowed sites and brings out riper fruit. From the region, the Jacquesons in Rully, François Lumpp in Givry, and François Raquillet in Mercurey have crafted some of their finest wines to date, both white and red. Other similarly traditionally more modest whites impress generally – from the village of Saint Romain, down to generic Bourgogne Blanc, and even the humble aligoté grape (once only used as the base for kir) are all commendable.
However, while 2019 is a great year, Domaine de Montille’s winemaker Brian Sieve counsels caution: “We are in a window in Burgundy that is slowly closing – we need more water and less sun,” he says. If global warming continues, a couple of degrees’ more sustained heat and a few centimetres less rain could shut that window within a generation. It might not come to that – but just in case, I advise everyone to stock up. If it turns out as well as 1865, it will be money well spent.
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