The Great Burgundian Conundrium

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2019-02-04


As a couple of recent posts have alluded to, we think some of the really top end Burgundy has reached heights that might not be sustainable in the short to medium term. Over the last decade or so the Burgundy market has been the star performer:


Decade WO 150 Index


But in the last year it has gone into interstellar overdrive:


2018 WO 150 Index


Obviously Burgundy, and particularly the greatest names, are in short supply and the desire to have a slice of the action has had a dramatic impact on prices. But can this continue - THAT is the question!? This commentator has already sold some of the spectacularly performing big names and is reallocating the assets lower down the ladder, especially where prices are yet to move.

Last week we compared values of Clos de Beze 2010 from the Domaines of Rousseau, (Bruno) Clair and Drouhin-Laroze, all very closely rated, to find their respective price ratios to be 1 Rousseau for 13 Clair for 28 Drouhin-Laroze. This highlights the incredible disparity between certain growers and of course there will always be premia for certain names. However, the gaps have widened and some of the differentials are unjustified - opportunities abound, inter Burgundy and elsewhere. This quick comparison of a few random names suggests the currently less fashionable 1st Growth Bordeaux and even serious Rhone could be worth a look:

Burgundy Market versus price


Please get in touch if you would like to discuss the Burgundian Conundrium and see if we can make sense of it!?


Burgundy 2017 and beyond

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2018-12-17


Ahead of the new 2017 releases in early 2019 it's time to report on Burgundy and its news.

2017

Another warm summer produced accessible, fruity wines.

Left to do their thing, the vines were wont to produce very high yields especially in areas hit by frost damage in 2016 as the plants strove to compensate. Yields in Chardonnay were as high as 80 hl/ha. Now that’s a lot.

With a long run of short harvests stretching back to 2009 for several communes, the temptation was to let nature’s abundance run unabated. The trouble is, pinot noir is particularly susceptible to a large crop, so the trick in 2017 was to work to constrain yields.

Just as many over-cropped 1999s are now showing flat, far from being the great wines they might (and should) have been, we shall see which producers in 2017 haven't applied the brakes hard enough in due course.

For those who produced normal yields, 2017 is a delightfully juicy, fruit-forward year. Yet the best wines have more than just fruit: there is a fine mineral structure, a chalkiness and salinity that complements the raspberry coulis, kirsch, griotte, plum and fruit pastille characteristics.

The best pinots show appealing sucrosité with plenty of supporting freshness, which contributes to a sappy, mouth-watering persistence.

Above all I loved the harmony, balance, progression and energy of the best reds. I wouldn’t be surprised if they never shut down, and stay delicious from early on in their development throughout a moderately long drinking window: after all the 1997s are just about still hanging in there these days, and the 2017s have the potential to be rather better.

The perfect 2017 pinot has flowing raspberry fruit, a vinous, kirsch-like refinement, an infusion of Seville oranges and hints at a darker side with liquorice and spice.

The question mark over 2017 is whether a proper degree of intensity has been achieved. The vintage doesn’t seem to reach the same level in general as 2016, and yet the greatest 2017s do rival (and in a few cases surpass) their 1 year old siblings.

2017 is also very much a vintage where the appellations are reflective of their classification. Stepping up through a range from Bourgogne, through village wine and premier cru up to grand cru feels like an exercise in stepping up through the gears, with more oomph and interest at each change.

Whites are generally delicious as long as yields were tightly managed, and though the acidity levels were apparently a little less than in 2016, the very best still show a notable pithiness, a chalkiness and a bright intense citrus core that successfully counterbalances a tropical fruit character of pineapple and guava.



2018

Looking ahead to 2018, this is going to be a very tricky vintage. It was really hot, and the choice of picking date will have been critical.

Many producers were searching for perfect phenolic ripeness, waiting until the pips indicated an expected level of maturity. Some producers believed that perfect phenolic ripeness was not the only deciding factor for picking a harvest date in 2018. Those that were concerned about alcohol levels went early. They got their grapes in as early as the start of the last week of August finishing during the first week of September.

Producers needed to avoid too much extraction in 2018 for fear of introducing bitter flavours, especially those who had gone early. The gentlest of infusions seem at this very early stage to be the making of the best wines. Even so you won’t see many wines straight out of barrel with that trademark shining ruby robe of classic burgundy in 2018.

The most exciting wines tasted from barrel were made from grapes carried in at around 13.5 degrees but there are tales of 15 or (even!) 16 degree behemoths, whilst 14.2-14.5 degrees feels like a norm in the vintage.

The early pickers were fearful of what might happen if they let the alcohol levels rise too far, and they were evidently right. There were very real risks of partially completed fermentations and consequent high residual sugars in the juice. Several producers we spoke to had a battle to restart stalled fermentations, typically by tipping in the lees of another wine that had completed its fermentation more successfully.

The wines are largely dark purple or purple-black, opaque in appearance, and unsurprisingly show exuberant New World fruit and tend to have a mouth-coating texture due to the higher alcohols. There are some who argue that this is a very great vintage in the making; that vintages like 1947 were very hot indeed and yet they have transformed into great old bones. Taking a necessarily broad view at this early stage I would suggest that there are likely to be a rather small number of potentially very great wines.

Amphorae

Fourrier continued experimenting with Amphorae in the 2017 vintage with La Combe aux Moines, but they are sure to come into their own for 2018. The terracotta enables the wine to breathe whilst acting as a totally neutral vessel. This accentuates minerality and produces a wine – if unblended with wine aged in wood – that would be too strict. Certain of his wines including Clos St Jacques and La Combe aux Moines have a proportion of the production being aged within these fabulous looking clay containers for the 2018 vintage. The finished wine will be blended with the other part of the vineyard in barrels. It will be fascinating to see the results – could these turn out to be some of the greatest wines ever made at this wonderful domaine?




2017 – The year that distribution changed

Producers are not blind to the fact that certain merchants have been selling their UK en primeur allocations to Asia, notably Hong Kong. They are not happy to discover that importers cross geographical boundaries, even if the wines sold may be subsequently stored for a period of time in the UK.

Nor are their agents impressed, who have the clout to recommend their producers shift allocation to where demand is currently being met indirectly.

As a result certain top producers have withdrawn a significant part of their allocation to the UK in favour of Asia, even though there is much more wine this year to go round - in some cases up to 3 times the quantity of 2016.

2017 pricing

With Brexit uncertainty depressing the Pound, more wine not necessarily translating into larger allocations for the UK, and the secondary Burgundy market having risen substantially during the course of 2018, there are few reasons to imagine that prices will fall. Which makes it a tricky call for consumers who don't want to lose their allocations and yet this is one of the most uncertain of times. High release prices for great vintages such as 2015 and 2016 were swallowed. We will have to see how digeste 2017 proves to be.


Up and coming Burgundy

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2018-06-28


Whilst expensive Burgundies make the headlines, there's another revolution taking place that is transforming the qualitative level of winemaking more generally in Burgundy.

Revolution

It's a revolution that's very different to the one caused by an influx of corporate cash snapping up top domaines that produce some of the region’s most sought-after wines.

Daughters and sons who are graduating from l’école viticole, and who spend their stages at new world wineries or with progressive in-region vignerons, are taking best practises in the vines and chais back to familial domaines and transforming quality of those wines. Other offspring are going it alone, relying on their social network to buy grapes from friends and friends of family. And still others are coming back to their roots, turning their back on a career in Paris for the siren call of the Côte d’Or.

In a way there’s a relationship between the two; the big money coming in is offering the promise of a wealthier future to the next generation.

Must buys

Within this dynamic atmosphere there are lots of value buying opportunities. One doesn’t have to be a millionaire to own and to drink Burgundy. But you need to be quicker to claim an early allocation than previously. Prices of new discoveries rise fast. Whereas in the past it would have taken many vintages of successes before a domaine became established enough to justify rapid price hikes, these days positive press and ensuing price escalation can happen quickly.

How do I discover new producers?

Follow your favourite merchants – they’ll organise events or dinners at which the wines they represent can be tasted, allowing you to figure out which of the wines they are offering you think are the real deal.

Follow the critics – Neal Martin is now at Vinous, William Kelley has assumed the mantle at robertparker.com and Steen Öhman is busy discovering new talent at Winehog.

The blog format of Winehog is well suited to reading about new discoveries, where he’s picked up on Thibaud (Y) Clerget, Nicolas Faure, his fiancée Amelie Berthaut at Berthaut-Gerbet, Maxime Cheurlin at Georges Nöellat, Duroché, Jean-Marc Bouley, Arnaud Tessier, and Jean-Marc Vincent to highlight a range of notable domaines.


Charmes Dessus 2012, Domaine Tessier © Nick Martin

His latest discovery is Marthe Henri Boillot in Mersault, a true ‘start up’ having returned to pick up the remnants of her grandfather’s estate and has cut sourcing deals with friends.

It’s a familiar story. Down the road in Santenay Jean-Marc and Anne-Marie Vincent picked up the reins of his grandfather’s lapsed estate back in the late 1990s, and have transformed it into by far the best domaine of Santenay, making wines of great succulence, nerve and aromatic complexity. In fact, his reputation as one of the best true vignerons on the whole Côte is widely recognised by many other top producers all the way up into the Côte de Nuits.

They say birds of a feather flock together. Just look at Jean-Marc’s vigneron network, and you discover producers who share the same qualitative ethic and who are in search of constant improvements; producers such as Olivier Lamy, Jean-Marc Bouley and the passionately intense, super-fit Bruno Lorenzon in Mercurey.


Jean-Marc Vincent © Nick Martin

High density planting, low plant yields, vine training to minimise stress on the vine’s foot, braiding à la Leroy, soil microbial activity/ fertility, low sulphur addition late on in the winemaking process, rigorous triages of natural corks - are typical leitmotifs of these, and a growing number of young, ambitious producers.

In Vosne-Romanée, the brilliant and young family winemaker at Arnoux-Lachaux, Charles, has employed the braided training technique of his heroine Lalou-Bize Leroy to magical effect in his Aux Reignot vineyard, adding definition, an extraordinary energy and drive to this profound wine that is Grand Cru in everything but name. Arnoux Lachaux’s prices have skyrocketed so in that sense that particular ship has sailed; plenty are yet to leave port.


Steen Öhman: The Burgundy market today

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2017-05-24




With the 2015 Burgundies arriving in the market these days and with more to come over the next period the market is showing mixed signals - some of continued excessive demand and some spell disaster for lesser producers trying to claim high prices.


The prices of the 2015 vintage

The price development for the 2015s shows a rather mixed picture at the primary level - some producers have showed great restraint and have in some cases kept the prices at 2014 level, whereas moderate increases have been seen even amongst the top producers in very high demand.

A lot of Burgundy producers are aware of the dangers of high prices even on village level, as these wines are now becoming very expensive in restaurants. If they want to maintain a good representation in restaurants the prices for a village level wine are near the limit - aside from the producers in extremely high demand.

Other producers seem not very aware of these dangers and have increased the 2015 prices by more than 20% - and while this may be viable in the very short run - I have talked to several wine bars and restaurants that have cut allocations already, and many will do so after the 2015 vintage. This will perhaps not have a huge effect on the 2016 vintage as the quantities are very small in some cases .. but in the long run some producers have priced themselves out of the market so to speak.


The 2016 vintage - what to expect

I have tasted some 2016s already and there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic, as quality looks very fine indeed. The wines are cooler than the 2015s, and in that way more classic. It's still too early to be very firm on the quality - but potentially a quite outstanding vintage - very well balanced and enjoyable for both the reds and the whites.

The quantities are very low due to the April frost, but also very uneven across the producers and appellations. My expectation would be that the low quantity will ensure a continued upward pressure on prices for the wines in demand, but the tendency could be trouble ahead for increases in prices for the wines with no real demand in the secondary market.



Francois Millet, Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé - Picture: http://winehog.org/


The long-term effect of prices

In my view, we will see continued increases in prices on the wines in very high demand - i.e. wines getting high prices in the secondary market thus ensuring a margin for those who buy the wines in the primary market.

These wines will still be in demand, as many people will keep allocations as it's a good investment, but larger share will eventually end up in the secondary market. Some of these wines are now priced beyond the limits of the average quite well off consumer, and will be traded accordingly. Restaurants will do the same, and as it becomes more difficult to sell the wines at the tables - they will also cash-in offering wines on the secondary market.

The wines not in demand in the secondary market will eventually have problems, as consumers will cut allocations and move on to other products.

This is where Bordeaux was 15 - 20 years ago, and while the top Bordeaux wines have managed to increase prices the lesser wines from Bordeaux are struggling with low demand and low prices even though quality and the value of these wines often can be tremendous these days.

Take a look at the wine lists of today and note how limited the Bordeaux offerings often are these days - compared to 20 years ago.



Burgundy will prevail but demand will be more volatile

With the small quantities produced in Burgundy the risk of a full meltdown is not imminent even with the latest increases in prices. Some producers will struggle as they will be caught between the need or urge to increase prices and the restrain shown by some of the top estates regarding the prices on the low-level wines.

A good negociant will be facing the fact that their Vosne village will cost the same as the wines from a top end producer in the primary market. That is not sustainable in the long run - and these producers could well see a collapsing demand within a few years.

As prices go up I expect demand to be more volatile, as the focus on the great vintages will increase. This has happened in Bordeaux and with the globalisation and available price information around the clock this will also be the case with Burgundy.

So, I expect increasing and more volatile prices for the wines in demand, and a sluggish market for the producers with high prices without a good demand from the secondary market.


The calculative consumer

As the prices increase the consumers will be more calculative and look at the historic prices and the development in the prices and availability of back vintages. Is it the right time to buy, can the same wine in an equally good back-vintage be found on the market at a lower cost.

The conscious consumer will check these things, and will search for information, to ensure a good price and ensure a good investment, even though the wine is bought for pure pleasure. Importantly consistency in the prices seen in relation to back vintages will be needed at least for wines produced in relatively large quantities.

This will increase the focus on services that offer historic data on prices and the possibility to validate and research the “true” market price.


The rising stars will emerge and shine brightly

Furthermore, we will see new talented producers pop up - and become in fashion within a very short time - and achieve high demand for these wines in the secondary market very rapidly as the producers get the acclaim from the wine press. So, exciting times where buyers and investors must be on their toes to follow the trends in Burgundy.

As a wine writer, it's exciting times in Burgundy as new talents emerge all the time, and old somewhat lacklustre estates are transformed to a new star within a few years with the arrival of a new generation.

So, stay on your toes, stay tuned in and informed on winehog.org - a yearly subscription is only 29€ - sign up here 


Steen Öhman

Chief Tasting Officer

Winehog.org 


NB:

The team at Wine Owners love Steen’s Burgundy reviews. Just like us, he was an impassioned collector, until he decided to pack in his day job and apply his palate to Burgundy for the good of mankind (and perhaps to gain a little personal enlightenment along the way).

An annual subscription with https://Winehog.org is a bit of a bargain; plus the reviews are accessible, and when we taste the wines that Steen’s tasted, we ‘get it’. Furthermore he’s a real discoverer, so if you're the sort of collector who loves the idea of buying into the next young Burgundy buck before the rest of the world catches on and spoils the price, you really should subscribe!


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