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.
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.
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.
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.
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.