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.


Reappraising 2005 Burgundy

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2018-10-22


Omar Khan’s Business & Wine events are hedonistic epics of wine indulgence and learning, and October 2018’s event at The Four Seasons on Park Lane was no exception.

Bouchard’s 2005s are a stunning set of wines, and when compared with 2015 showed fabulous balance and freshness. A beautiful menu that proved a perfect foil to the great wines served including Chevalier Montrachet La Cabotte 2002 and Beaune Greves La Vigne L’Enfant Jesus 1976 demonstrated how unfair Michelin can be in its treatment of hotel establishments compared with independent restaurants: Romuald Feger deserves a couple of stars!

By the time Henriot bought Bouchard Pere et Fils in 1995, the venerable House, founded in 1731 had found itself in a bit of a financial squeeze. New oak barrels were rationed and the wine maker was making do.

Herriot’s purchase changed all of that, and by 2005 Bouchard was well and truly reestablished as one of the great Burgundy Houses, and a microcosm of Burgundy itself with vineyard holdings representative of practically every commune across the Cote de Beaune and Cote de Nuits. The responsibility of this unique heritage is keenly understood by Henriot: so that for consumers discovering Burgundy, whose initial enthusiasm can so easily be diverted by an underwhelming experience, Bouchard Pere et Fils offer a swathe of benchmark wines.



Tasting a cross section of the 2005 Burgundies compared with the 2015 vintage highlighted a number of exceptional terroirs. It also showcased the very high quality of the 2005 vintage. It may well be that 2015 was a much more successful version of 2009, with the warmth of the vintage kept fresh and with retained definition of fruit thanks to more controlled wine making, but on this showing the wines are less precise and less fresh than 2005. Maybe they just need more time; sometimes the intrinsic balance of a wine changes shape over the course of the early years in bottle. Let’s hope that’s the case with these 2015s because the whites in particular need to freshen up.

A little more on the 2005 vintage chez Bouchard. These are, in a word, brilliant. We suspect most Burgundy-philes have resisted broaching their 2005s for fear of encountering a tannic behemoth, such are the tales of untamed structure in the top wines. This range tells a very different story: of freshness; blood orange mid palates, confit fruit illuminated with beaded acidity, and the sort of drive and energy that makes you want to dribble into your poulet de bresse aux tropettes de morts. Of course there’s structure too, but it’s balanced, provides focus and is more than offset by oodles of rich juicy fruit.

Ot the reds L’Enfant Jesus showed the precision of the Beaune Greves vineyard, with a bright thrust of energy, resonance and depth, and a mid palate veined with blood orange and black chocolate. This is a wine for the ages.

Le ‘Le Corton’ is a great red terroir, produced from a vineyard which is also permitted for white Corton. This 2005 doesn’t have the earthy depths of a Bressandes, but exhibits great drive, energy, a concentrated confit mid-plate and is very elegant. A more delicately formed Corton and in my view all the better for it.

Volnay Caillerets 2005 is a more forward wine, although the term is relative in context of the preceding wines. Aromatically spiced with a dark liquorice sweetened mid palate that has a creamy texture, a good sense of energy with oranges present on the finish.

On the night the Chevalier Montrachet 2005 was chalky and mineral, insinuating in its attack before gradually but determinedly building intensity. Very, very long. Le Montrachet 2005 was a powerhouse but so, so primary; a tough one to judge other than elementally and so to try to anticipate something extraordinary in the coming decades.

On this showing, other than recommending you fill your boots with Bouchard 2005s, you might want to check if 2005 Burgundies are well enough represented in your cellar. If not, they’re not going to get any cheaper as they get closed to the start of their drinking windows, so now’s as good a time as any to start looking for some.




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.


Dujac dinner hosted by Flint Wines at Treadwells

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2018-06-06


Hosted by Flint, tutored by Alec Seysses, this was an unforgettable dinner. The wines are hedonistic, show great intensity of flavour and grand dimension. But they are not heavy or dense. They are wines of intensity and breadth rather than weight.

2011 Bonnes Mares

Alec said that they extracted a little more than they might normally have done. The colour is a darker shade of purple, whilst at first the nose is dense and rather closed. There is a boatload of liquorice evident at entry and on the mid palate, with iodine, orange and thyme.

With air the nose opens up to reveal lavender and plum skins, a sweetly perfumed mid palate and a velvety texture. Great length. Complete.

93

1998 Clos de la Roche

At first a tight nose, with a sweet undercurrent. With time in the glass, classic tertiary pinot aromas mingle with lemon verbena. A fresh attack is followed by citrus fruit, and a sappy, mouth-watering mid palate. There’s great persistence to the finish with a classic pinot character. Showing plenty of life and suggesting a great mid term future over the next 5 years.

93+

1997 Echezeaux

Expansive nose of angelica, sandalwood and iodine. Quite broad, very tertiary, leafy and resolved with a medium-long finish.

92

2007 Clos St. Denis

Sherbetty nose, broad pinot nose, herbal and saline. Delightful fruity mid palate, redcurrent and cream, a touch of liquorice, sweet fruit but lifted by a gently freshness. Hedonistic.

94

2002 Clos St. Denis

Perfumed, deep nose, a hint of game with a consommé-like infusion, saline. That gamey complexity shows up again on the front palate before broad orange-infused flavours channel the wine into the mid palate. Terrific focus. Moderate weight but great intensity, very complex with an unami and saline character building out into the long finish. Very 2002 in its precision and energy.

98

1999 Clos St. Denis

Oranges and other citrus fruit on the nose, with lemon verbena adding a herbal character. Gorgeous velvety texture, a really visceral wine. Liquorice, orange pith, great intensity and a really solid core. Compact and immensely deep. Orange rind on the finish. Very young and tight as yet.

96

1999 Echezeaux

A pinot ‘qui pinotte’ – that classic nose exhibiting tertiary pinot character of strawberries ‘on the turn’ mixed with damp undergrowth. Just classic. Gentle resolved wine. Some resonance on the finish. Deceptively mid-weight with alluring intensity.

92

1999 Clos de la Roche

Great complexity and depth. Orange infused nose, saline with perfume of wild broom. Cloved, liquorice attack, and a hedonistic and visceral mid palate. Great resonance. Orange peel, sherbettty sweet fruit. Amazing freshness and length. Goes on and on. A legend.

97+

1999 Bonnes Mares

Expressive aromatic nose, really quite open and sweet. Ready to go, right in the middle of the red to black fruit spectrum. Fruity jujubes and as you might expect a sweet mid palate. Calmed down with 30 minutes of aeration in the glass to reveal a fresh finish that lengthens correspondingly.

93


Caroline Brangé ©Nick Martin


Vintages in the Shadows

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2018-03-05


We would like to echo the sentiments of Lisa Perotti-Brown – the new face of Bordeaux at The Wine Advocate – who revels in reviewing great wines from vintages less hyped than the universally celebrated ones.

A review of past vintages is so much more pleasurable than one of a current vintage. It can be pursued at leisure, far from the madding crowd of en primeur set-piece campaigns. The wines have been in bottle for some years, and have grown into their skins, allowing them to express themselves and harmonise. There is none of the guesswork required when evaluating young wines. And it is not done as part of a tasting Megathon favouring the most obvious, richest wines…

Here follows a spotlight of vintages which hide truly great wines, many of which still represent good value.

Burgundy 2013

Let's start with 2013, the worst climatic year Burgundy has experienced in a long time, characterized by a dreadful summer of cold, sodden weather. But that’s the thing with Burgundy; its growers refused to give up. They never do. They spent the summer in their Aigle wellies desperately battling the filthy elements and sticky, sucking mud. Coaxing what they could out of their precious vines - their livelihood - trying to make the best of a seemingly bad lot. The coaxing process involved leaf thinning, and sacrificing bunches to give the rest a chance at maturing properly. And that is the thing with Pinot Noir; it responds exceptionally favourably to low yields.

Now, if you like dense, sweet fruit with generous alcohols, 2013 may not be the vintage for you. But if you enjoy intensity of flavour without the weight of a hot year, red Burgundies from 2013 will positively surprise you. All the more so if you first tasted barrel samples back in January 2015; the wines are now positively transformed from that first recalcitrant showing.

It’s well known that a warm, accommodating, crisis-free growing season will result in wines that are generous and velvety-textured in their youth. But these aren’t always the wines that develop into fine, complex maturity. Take 1999 for example, lauded as one of the greatest Burgundy vintages of all time. Indeed, some of the wines are astoundingly good. But just as many others are really quite average. Why is that? Over-generous yields. It’s a fine line with Pinot, between harvesting as much ripe fruit as nature provides and allowing the fecund vine to produce as much as it’s wont.

Back to low-yielding 2013, and the best wines are beautifully crystalline, intense and transparent. Think a cornucopia of red fruits, blackberries and gooseberries: the essential ingredients of a refreshing summer pudding – a balancing mélange of sweet and sharp. Add characteristic Burgundy high notes of salinity (and a mineral-tinged, geological nod-in-the-glass to the inland sea of which the Cote d’Or was once a part) and hopefully you’ve formed a fair mental image of 2013 red Burgundy.

It’s no coincidence that blue chip stalwarts such as Eric Rousseau and Christophe Roumier love their 2013s. Aubert de Villaine sees his Domaine de la Romanée 2013s as long distance runners (in contrast to his more ‘forward’ 2014s). And they are delightful.

2013 is also one of the last sensibly priced vintages before Burgundy prices became vertiginous.

Burgundy 2006

Wines from cooler Burgundy vintages often start out rather awkward, and out of kilter. Their acidity may add definition and length, but can also close the wine down, or conspire with tannins to suppress the essential grape characteristics in a wine.

2006 was one such vintage. Its wines were initially hard to taste, and broadly speaking, unlovely. Many of us viewed 2006 Burgundies as unwelcome magpies in our collector’s nest of more comely vintages.

But now, after a decade in bottle, the wines are starting to show very well. They exhibit well-defined fruit, great length and energy. Next to the 2005s, they may lack heft and powerful tannin structure, but they are nonetheless serious, intense wines. And they are beginning to drink well now. You’ll have to wait at least another decade for your 2005s to come around, but 2006 is a fine emerging vintage that will give pleasure now and for the foreseeable future.

Bordeaux 2011

For Bordeaux, 2011 was always going to be a tough sell. On release, the wines seemed scrawny and mean in comparison with the monumental 2009s and 2010s.

Yet a recent dinner event hosted by Wine Owners showed how dangerous it is to tar a whole vintage with the same presumptive brush, or to judge a more classic vintage too early. The highlights of that tasting were Vieux Chateau Certan 2011 and La Mission Haut-Brion 2011. They were both easily the equal of their counterparts from better-regarded vintages, and represent great value compared with any more recent vintage.

Bordeaux 2006

In Bordeaux, 2006 was a vintage that attracted more than its fair share of negative press, the effects of which are still in evidence today, judging by the affordability of 2006 Bordeaux on the Wine Owners Exchange. The success of a Bordeaux vintage depends on sentiment, and in 2006 combination of negative factors came into play.

First, it came on the heels of stellar 2005. Second, Bob Parker’s favourable rating of the vintage attracted criticism from many pundits, attracting further negative attention. Third, the release prices were too expensive– due at least partly to the high Parker scores. Why else would La Mission Haut-Brion be ready to trade at £1,550 per 12x75cl, yet be overlooked?

[ Top tip: buy La Mission Haut-Brion at this level – half of its opening (mis)price. It is considered a ‘wine of the vintage’, rivalled for this accolade only by the (much more expensive) Mouton. ]

We are fans of the Bordeaux 2006 wines we’ve tasted. They don’t have the powdery tannins and powerful black fruit of the 2005s, but they do have superb energy, and a sappy character that compels you to take the next sip. We see many wines from 2006 as more interesting than their counterparts from 2004 or 2008. Notable examples include Mouton, Pontet-Canet, Leoville Barton, Leoville Las Cases, La Conseillante (just a sampled tip of the iceberg). Whenever tasted comparatively, these showed extremely well alongside relative other vintages.

In our experience, where 2006 performs particularly well is its consistency. Simply put, we’ve never had a poor one. Other low-rated back-vintages produced a number of successes (such as 2007, 2011), but none are as consistent as 2006.

Bordeaux 2002

2002 is another Bordeaux vintage which suffered from poor reputation. The year’s poor weather consigned the vintage to the status of ‘restaurant wine’ before any of the wines were even bottled. But it’s easy to forget that the wines were very well priced; first growths were released at around £800 per case (just one-sixth of their 2015 release prices). If you had invested in 2002 Bordeaux 15 years ago, you would be feeling rather smug right now. 2002 is the vintage for the contrarian that lurks inside every wine enthusiast!

While they were never going to be the most profound expressions of Bordeaux (in the light of the meteorological conditions), the 2002s have consistently tasted savoury, fruity, and sweetly spiced with cloves, cinnamon sticks and liquorice root. At all levels of classification, we’ve yet to stumble across a disappointing example.

Piedmont 2002

In 2002 Piedmont, like Bordeaux, suffered from rotten summer weather. Wine commentators have described 2002 in Piedmont in such terms as ‘wiped out’, ‘disastrous’, ‘severely compromised’, ‘a washout’.

But despite all of this, one wine survived the vintage’s humid gloom (and the hailstorms which repeatedly strafed Barolo) with enough salvaged bunches to benefit from perfect autumnal conditions. This is a wine made with such severe selection that yields were just 12 hl/ ha, and which epitomises viticultural triumph against the odds. The wine in question is, of course, the now-mythical Barolo Riserva Monfortino 2002.

Take a moment to consider the sacrifice involved in making wine with yields as low as 12 hl/ ha. Burgundy considers 25 hl/ ha to be painfully low, and in Bordeaux anything under 40 hl/ha is a very short harvest.

Giovanni Conterno – Roberto Conterno’s late father – called 2002 the greatest Monfortino of his lifetime.

The last word must surely go to Antonio Galloni, whose tasting note and review of this wine encapsulates why it’s so rewarding to seek out the greatest wines within those vintages in the shadows:

“…the 2002 Barolo Riserva Monfortino, a wine that may very well turn into a modern-day legend… 2002 was a cold, rainy year that in many parts of Barolo culminated with violent hailstorms in early September. The weather then turned picture-perfect for the rest of the growing season, but by that time most vineyards were severely damaged. The late-ripening Cascina Francia was an exception. Conterno green-harvested aggressively, which gave the fruit a chance to ripen. …The Conternos were so upset by the poor early press reaction to the vintage they announced they would let no one taste their 2002 Barolo. Conterno has fashioned an old-style, massive Monfortino that pays homage to the great wines of decades past. …It is a deeply-colored, imposing Monfortino loaded with dense dark fruit that today is held in check by a massive wall of tannins…classic, old-style Barolo the likes of which we aren’t likely to see again any time soon. Antonio Galloni, October 2008.

Wine Owners - Vintages in the shadows Barolo Riserva Monfortino Conterno


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!


Latour, biodynamics and Demeter

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2017-05-17


Latour’s conversion to organically produced vines began almost 20 years ago when they stopped using chemical herbicides. Since then, they started experimenting with new techniques, and in 2015, 100% of L’Enclos was organic and 50% of it was biodynamic.

Producing according to biodynamic techniques is not new. This method applies ancestral practices of using only ingredients from the farm and maximising their impact. For example, fertilizing is from the manure from the cows and horses living on the estate, mixed in with different flowers of certain specific properties. This main idea is to create a sustainable and circular ecosystem aimed at protecting the earth and make it more fertile by freeing nature to multiply the microbial activity in the soil.

Pontet Canet can be considered as one of the pioneers. They did their first biodynamic trial in 2004 and the results turned out to be very positive: the vines were brighter and tighter. Alfred extended the test parcel and the vineyard became fully converted in 2006; a first for a Médoc Classified Growth. Ten year’s on, and their most recent vintages show an aromatic complexity that is quite clearly much more evident when compared to their wines from the mid 200s.

Now more and more vineyards use biodynamic practises to grow their vines and in the winemaking. After decades of intensive farming many of the top vineyards in Burgundy and Bordeaux, including Domaine Leroy and Domaine Leflaive, began looking for new options since their soils were being exhausted and couldn’t sustain healthy vines with good grapes.

The biodynamic label, Demeter, has recently gained popularity in the Bordeaux region. Chateau Durfort-Vivens has this year been fully certified by Demeter, with the designation proudly added to their bottling in the form of a strip label. In a variable year the Margaux appellation, Durfort-Vivens 2016 showed out of cask as a wine of character, with a lovely aromatic profile,crunch fruit and a chewy, black cherry infused finish.

But it’s far from a one-way argument. As weather patterns become more extreme, protecting the plant and its fruit from the element under a strict biodynamic regime can be risky.

A wave of quality obsessed Burgundy producers increasingly use biodynamic treatments in a mixed approach to vineyard husbandry where the focus is on the soil’s microbial strength. But with repeated hailstorms, and the risk of rot in a warm humid environment, it takes a brave man or woman to forgo other practical fall-back options.

It’s a rich man’s game. Small Burgundy producers cannot afford repeated losses to disease when conditions get really rough and biodynamics might not be sufficient without heavy and repeated doses of copper sulphate,something which producers adopting biodynamic viticulture are reluctant to do with concerns about creating copper residues in the soil.

Château Palmer is a leading proponent of biodynamics and has been undertaking a great deal of research on test barrels of recent vintages, both in the vineyard and in the cellar and reducing use of sulphur as a stabilising agent. In 2016 they misjudged with one too-few copper sulphate treatments resulting in an attack of mildew, reducing their overall production volumes to just 28hl/ha, a miserly figure for Bordeaux in a generous year where most quality producers cropped at 45-50 hl/ha.

Yet biodynamics is ‘back’ here to stay, even if those who apply for Demeter certification are likely to be outnumbered by those who simply practise biodynamic principles and use many of the treatments.

Further north in Saumur, the legendary Loire estate Clos Rougeard has been practising biodynamics for ever. In the 1960s and 1970s when their neighbours embraced synthetic fertilisers and chemicals, they were mocked for holding true to their ancestral principles practised since the time of their great grandfather.

The last word goes to Nadi Fourcault, the remaining brother of Clos Rougeard (only recently bought by the Bouygues family who also own Chateau Montrose). “The only thing that’s revolutionary about us is that we’ve never changed.”



Domaine de la Romanée Conti 2014 vintage

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2017-02-06


Let me first put my hand up and say I’m a fan of 2014 as a Burgundy vintage. It seems to me to be a year of rather lovely balance across the board. No doubt with exceptions, it’s a vintage to buy as high up the qualitative tree as you can afford, quite unlike 2015 where the hot summer provided a metaphorical leg up to wines on cooler, less exposed sites and colder soils.

Adam Brett-Smith, Managing Director of Corney & Barrow the UK exclusive agent for DRC, describes 2014 as the ‘happy vintage’ but warns that it’s easily underestimated. I do agree. The wines may be ‘on the fruit’ and correspondingly expressive, but there’s sufficient fine-grained structure, dry extract and acidity to see the wines develop over the medium to longer term.

The ability of Burgundies to age from classic or un-showy vintages seems consistently under-called by wine critics, especially where there’s a degree of natural concentration through moderate or normal yields, which seems to make a big difference to the finickety nature of Pinot Noir. 2014 should age effortlessly for 15-20 years.

TASTING NOTES

Corton

Warm, red fruited nose. An expressive, spiced attack with nice energy and a twist of licorice. A degree of firmness merely hints at the character of the archetypal Corton appellation (although there is huge variation between the various Corton soils) and leads into a giving, fruity finish.

Échézeaux

An inviting yeasty nose, in turn earthy and creamy. Once again, a degree of firmness that’s overridden by open, expressive, croquant fruit. It’s a wine that pinotents – delivering the essence of Pinot Noir, into a finish that’s framed with an orange citrus cut.

Grands Échézeaux

A fresher nose, vinous and earthy. There’s greater complexity, finely balanced with a bit more structure, more defined and an elemental, vinous character. On its reserve for now, with a freshness and depth that tempts a prediction of a great GE.

Romanée-St-Vivant

Sweet pastille fruit on entry, less evident grip, more expressive with greater mid palate volume. Super upfront fruit with a fine grained back palate. Freshness kicks in on the finish with good persistence.

Richebourg

Liquory aromas rise from the glass. Power comes through on the nose but paradoxically there’s a balancing restraint to it. Greater intensity than preceding wines, much less up-front fruit but with a bit more torque - progressive, earthy and very complex. Flashes of fruit push through, towards a grainy back palate with building intensity. Real grip and substance with old vine character.

La Tâche

Another step up, right now it presents as a more chiselled form of the Richebourg, a rather elegant and cushioned expression of La Tâche at this early stage. There’s lots of latent power and a sense of reserve on the back palate with a long and persistent finale.

Romanée-Conti

Expressive nose of fruit, earth, and a greater sense of minerality. Powerful yet very refined. Darker character, with a brightly illuminated outline to the dark fruit. A controlled finish with fine-grained grip and a sense of penetrating depth.




2015 Burgundy in context

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2017-01-30


This report is written on the back of 3 days of tasting cask samples and back vintages chez producers in Burgundy, hot on the heels of the London tastings.

We visited 13 small producers and tasted well over 100 wines in cellars, tasting rooms and producers’ homes, evenly split between the Cote de Nuits and Cote de Beaune.

The London en primeur tastings showed open wines with plenty of fruit. Those that were bursting with energy stood out, with some showing somewhat mute: a little flat or lacking in definition. Such are the challenges of transporting samples directly from barrel and expecting them to perform. Sometimes they do, often they don’t.

Barrel tastings in situ are a much better opportunity to judge wines individually and form a view on the vintage overall. Unsurprisingly the wines showed much more consistently than they had done in London.

If you can taste alongside prior vintages, as we did on a few occasions, that’s all the better as it provides useful context.

Comparisons have been drawn with previous vintages by commentators, notably 2005 and 2009 (presumably due to the hot summers they all have in common).

The producers don’t agree. 2009s show in a bigger, atypical mould. 2005s are considerably more tannic, built for the very long term, and most will need a good while yet. A few producers see 2005 as the greatest vintage of their generation, but many more look to 1999 as their benchmark.

2015 has the fruit and accessibility of 2012, with more volume and structure, and seemingly similar PHs. It’s an alluring vintage without the generally slacker character of 2009. Most of the successes were picked early, before the rains on 10th September. But some held off and still produced lovely wine. Others who harvested after the 10th have wines that seem to me to be too sweet, perceptibly lower in acidity and have less fine tannins. For the majority that were successful, the watchword was very little or no punching down, almost everyone opting for gentle extractions.

Some producers went for a high proportion of whole bunch fermentation. Those practising the inclusion of whole bunches do so to add an extra sense of freshness and complexity. It’s worth pointing out that stems actually slightly increase the PH, so lowering acidity in the finished wine. But they also contribute different, plant-derived flavours such as eucalyptus and mint, and it’s possibly this that gives the impression of making the wine feel light-footed. Perhaps the marginal lowering of acidity also contributes to a silkier mouth feel. Theoretically whole bunches also add a bit of structure, but I’d guess it depends on what percentage is used and often you don’t sense it.

Having tasted plenty of wines with and without whole bunches, it does seem that a common aspect of the vintage character is the silkiness of the tannins that are present irrespective of these types of winemaking decisions.

Another facet of 2015 is its lovely concentration. Pinot Noir excels in vintages that aren’t bountiful. Yields in 2015 were generally lower than in 2014, 1990 or 1999. This was especially true of the Cote de Beaune because the vines hadn’t fully recovered from the stressing effects of hail in the preceding years.

2015s are fruity, rich, with good density and show definition. On balance I personally preferred cooler sites – due to location, aspect or being in a windy spot. But others will favour out-and-out richness and a broad-shouldered character from the warmer sites. We all have our palate preferences and that’s as it should be. In any case there are no universal rules to successful buying in 2015 since the different vineyard characters shine through.

The greatest relative successes are the lesser appellations. There are some truly superb Bourgogne rouge and village level wines. You’d be seriously missing out if you just focus on trophy wines.

Village wines in 2015 are priced similarly to the levels of Premier Crus from just 2 vintages ago. Grand Crus are up by a third in many cases. If you go long on 2015 now and choose to rationalise in a few years’ time, there are no guarantees that you’ll get your money back.

If you ask which were my favourite communes in 2015 that especially shone, I’d plump for Pommard, Aloxe-Corton, Chambolle-Musigny, Morey-St-Denis and Gevrey-Chambertin.

Nevertheless, I was delighted by lovely wines from Auxey-Duresses, Santenay and Volnay. I thought Nuits-St-Georges and Vosne-Romanée were stunning successes in 2014, and it was no surprise that they showed at least as superbly in 2015.

By now you’ll have formed the impression that 2015 is a great vintage across-the board. Indeed it is. Yet not everyone is happy.

A proportion of long-term collectors are refusing their allocations this year for the first time, which may tell us something about the sustainability of these levels. Some of those ‘given up’ allocations are going to overseas buyers who spend vast annual sums with the big London merchants. But Burgundy producers are well aware of the grey market of en primeur releases originating out of the UK. For now, they are tolerant of it, but for how much longer?

Many merchants are concentrating allocations in the hands of their wealthiest buyers who spend by far the most throughout the rest of the year. And when I say spend, I mean spend. Their dependence on wine investors or wine accumulators makes it harder for them to allocate widely, and correspondingly difficult for Burgundy lovers to gain access to many Grand Crus and Premier Crus. In that fundamental sense the market has changed out of all proportion.

Overall takings at the 2016 annual Hospices auction were down 25% on the previous year (although it’s worth remembering the historic 2015 auction record was in aid of the Paris victims of the IS-inspired atrocities). There is less of 2016 to go around due to the catastrophic late April frosts from the tip to almost the toe of the Cote D’Or, but the quality of what was made is very good and it’s another warm vintage.

If you’re UK based, one other thing to consider is that the Sterling Euro exchange rate will be volatile over the next couple of years, and many will be betting against the Euro during this timeframe. Presidential election results in France in 2017 could have a major impact on the Euro’s relative strength or weakness.

With this in mind, and given the extremely high release prices in the UK for 2015 Burgundy, it’s worth revisiting 2014 for all those who held back.

With a few months or more in bottle, the red wines are showing superbly, with dark, ripe fruit, excellent minerality and sufficient structure to assure medium to longer term drinking.

2014 is a good vintage. It’s a more classic red Burgundy vintage than 2015, majoring on its lovely balance. Based on these tastings, I am delighted to have bought so much of it.

2014 white wines have wonderful intensity, and though enjoyable for their terrific concentration already, are going to age beautifully. I’ll be laying down my best bottles for 15 or more years, but will surely be tempted to dip in regularly along the way.

2013 was plagued by miserable weather. Producers needed to battle the elements, along with mildew and rot. They had to work assiduously all the way through. Perhaps because of this the best producers are proud of their achievements. Reds 'pinottent', that is to say they show fine, overt varietal expression in a really fresh, lifted mid-weight style, with one proviso: just so long as vineyard husbandry was top notch the wines were able to draw energy from the life of the soil and yields were managed to concentrate the berries.

2013 reds may be mid-weight, but the best have a lovely ethereal intensity, and village wines are starting to drink already; they have none of the hardness and excoriating acidity of 1996, or the sharpness of 2006. Tasted 2 years ago as barrel samples 2013s were particularly taciturn, rather dry and mute, as you might imagine the product of such filthy weather. Today they are transformed.

However much the 2015 white wines are being talked up as being fresher than one could have imagined given the heat of the year (and they are), they are simply not in the same class as 2014. They lack the same degree of definition, intensity and breeding with which that vintage is blessed.

With prices increasing for whites too, there’s really very little reason to go long on them this year, and it’s noticeable that recent merchant emails contain a lot more white wines still on offer compared with the mostly sold-out reds. I’ve only bought a few affordable cases for nearer term drinking, and thought the best vineyard sites of Mercurey in the Cote Challonaise showed particularly well. But I’ll be drinking them well before my 2014s.

As a parting footnote, don't overlook Moulin-a-vent in the Beaujolais. From the red granite soils of the appellation’s best terroirs and in the able hands of top Cote D’Or producers, Gamay shows what it can create: truly a noble grape.


2015 Burgundy - a superb vintage

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2017-01-06


With the highly touted 2015 Burgundy campaign upon us, we can be sure of two things: it is a superb vintage, and prices will rise.

Let’s be honest, Burgundy is for wine lovers. Although we may have more Bordeaux in our cellars - steady, consistent, blended excellence - it is fickle, flirtatious Burgundy which steals our hearts. And the whole world is now falling in love with Burgundy, courting the tiny quantities and ready to take our place in the queue.

The pure, ripe fruit of the 2015s will tempt early drinking, but if we want to experience the extraordinary range of flavours, textures and sensations that fine burgundy can produce, we must be prepared to wait. Or to seek out mature wines from great producers in other vintages. Remember, in Burgundy more than anywhere, it is the producer who matters more than the vineyard or the year.

So rather than bet the whole house on the latest vintage, now might be the time to review the Burgundies that your fellow collectors have offered for sale on the fine wine exchange.

There is a dazzling range of beautiful wines available, from the most humble appellations to the greatest of Grand Crus. Some are for drinking now, others for keeping for the future, whatever that may bring. Some are in bond and some are duty paid, but DP prices are never more than their In Bond case equivalents and there is no VAT for exchange buyers. All were bought when the pound was much stronger and prices were lower. Prices of Burgundy’s back vintages may never be this low again.



So where would you start?

Chardonnay is arguably easier to enjoy across the board in youth than Pinot Noir. 2014 whites have greater precision and zest than their 2015 counterparts and it is probably the best vintage since 2001. 2014s are only just starting to appear as offers for sale on the secondary market and they are unquestionably worth having in any cellar.

As long as yields of this naturally exuberant varietal are constrained, there is plenty to pick from: 2013, 2012, 2010, 2007 were all very good, whilst there are some terrific 2006s with nerve and energy, in contrast to lush and giving 2008s. Very late malolactic fermentations in 2001 lent plenty of substance to the best wines; they had longer to feed off their nourishing lees. When looking at 2005 and earlier fears of premature oxidation (premox) have really hurt the market. But there are still old bones that are simply thrilling.

Looking to red Burgundy, consider 2005 - considered one of the great vintages and should make fine old bones, but there's tannins aplenty, some more puckering than others depending on extraction, that suggests another 10-20 years will be required. Indeed they may be drinking in the same window as 2015 or later! 

Consider 2010, a vintage with the nerve and intensity of 2008 married to the flesh of a vintage like 1995.

If you want to buy into a vintage that was overlooked when released but that has evolved into one of the most exciting we’ve tasted look to 2002, a lesson if ever there was one in how pinot noir loves luminosity more than heat. These are wines with fine intensity and great purity.

Talking of which, if you’re a classicist and enjoy form over flattery, 2001 is starting to climb the upward slope of maturity with wines that are sappy and crystalline but may have yet to reach their peaks.

The truly great 1999s are lusciously fleshy, sweetly spiced and dense, but at the same time so coiled, that most Grand Crus will surely need another 5-10 years. Many premier crus and village wine are gorgeous now.

2012 is a successful recent vintage that had really low yields (a very good thing for Pinot Noir) but will be cheaper than 2015. Producers love 2012 thanks to their fabulous balance and flattering ripe fruit, which nonetheless blankets an underlying structure for mid term appreciation.

The top tips for 2015s (whatever we say, we know you’ll want to buy some!) are that the lesser appellations, cooler climates and colder soils will excel. You don't need to stretch to the top of the tree to find great Pinot Noir in 2015 to drink over the next 15 years, which is great news for Burgundy lovers and something to be thankful for in a very expensive vintage.

Buying back vintages vs new releases

Other than exceptionally hard to find Grand Crus and Holy Grail producers’ best wines – that you’re either allocated or you’re not – it’s worth looking to premier crus from producers with good reputations for quality and value-hunting.

Take Beaune Grèves L’Enfant Jésus from Bouchard Père et Fils. Whilst back vintages were much cheaper at release than they are today, there isn’t much between the release price of 2015 or any number of superb back vintages.

As the chart below shows, the superb 1999 vintage is still cheaper today than the release price of 2015, the equally acclaimed 2010 is the same price, but you can drink it in 10 years instead of having to wait until the 2030s for the 2015; and only the 2005 and 2002 are a little more expensive – but not hideously so.



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