2018 Burgundy En Primeur
Over twenty five-odd years of tasting and learning about Burgundy, we have invariably, and somewhat secretly, wished for just a touch more fruit concentration (rarely have we wished for less!) whilst prizing terroir, which gives the wines their unique identity. As a vintage, 2018 pushes at the boundaries of just how much concentration the red wines, in particular, can sustain, without losing their distinct character. The answer, it turns out, is quite a lot!
The journalists’ view is that this was ‘a vintage of extremes’. Some growers judged picking dates and vinification just right; others over-egged the Burgundian pudding. Most merchants will tell you that choosing the right wines from the right growers is key - more of which below. Our modest but growing list of domaines is already the result of very careful selection. Wine after wine we tasted had energy and freshness, with nothing but vibrant fruit. This vintage may not be about tension, but it certainly is about enjoyment. In that respect, it is tempting to draw comparisons with the generous 2015 vintage, but the ‘18s have far more structure and freshness. With their combination of opulence and energy, we think 2018 is a vintage not to be missed.
The majority of the wines we offer are from small, family-owned domaines, already acknowledged both in Burgundy and internationally, but which have not yet been caught up in the speculative price rises which affected a small, ‘elite’ group of growers. Above all, domaines like Borgeot, Michelot and Voillot makes wines for people who enjoy drinking burgundy.
That said, we believe that prices for names like rising-star Hudelot-Baillet, and more established ones such as Tortochot and Rossignol-Trapet, will increase steadily over the next decade. Each time we visit Beaune, the more we are struck by the enormous worldwide demand for good burgundy. We had a vivid reminder of this last autumn in Beaune, observing three young Singaporean wine collectors at our hotel, breakfasting at the table next to us, with a liberal selection of grands crus open before them! Prices for that elite club led by DRC may have dipped of late, but more generally we expect prices to rise over the next decade. Please let us know if would like advice on wines with investment potential.
One of the most exciting aspects of modern Burgundy, as showcased by this vintage, is the emergence of many more new, high-quality growers, Jeannin-Naltet in Mercurey being a great example. If it were possible to taste the current vintages of these wines alongside Cote d’Or wines of two decades ago, we suspect they would fare very well indeed, so much has the quality in Burgundy risen.
For those less certain of their tastes when it comes to Burgundy than, say, Bordeaux, we have compiled some recommended cellars at the end of this offer. A joy of Pinot Noir is how delicious it can be in the first few years after bottling, with a more developed style emerging after 3-7 years. Our cellar plans include whites and reds which can be enjoyed soon after landing (late autumn this year) alongside wines like Beaune premiers crus, which will still be drinking into the next century
A brief summary of the growing season
2018 has the potential to be ranked with the all-time great vintages. The warmest year since 2003, it was also very dry, with just 55% of average annual rainfall. 'Warm vintages harvested early' are nothing new in the last two decades in Burgundy, but this one had several distinct features which will make for great wines.
Despite the warm weather and low precipitation during the growing season, rainfall earlier in the winter meant that the vines started the year with excellent reserves of ground-water. This is a key difference to truly ‘hot’ vintages like 2003. The vines were able to manage the temperature and for the most-part avoid heat stress. The health of the crop was exceptionally good, with fewer issues with mildew or botrytis than in recent vintages. One of the few problems was uneven ripening, with some berries becoming ripe whilst others were still green. At Domaine Ferret in Pouilly-Fuissé, winemaker Audrey Braccini told us how she had some difficult discussions with her vineyard teams, who were eager to harvest early (to retain freshness). She had to stand firm and persuade them to delay, in the interests of even-ripeness levels across the harvest.
Flowering was early, and although the harvest began in August (even for some reds), the growing season was of normal length, allowing plenty of time for both physiological and phenolic (i.e. sugar and flavour) ripeness to develop. This early flowering could also have led to an overly-abundant crop, in turn reducing final concentration levels. Fortunately, rain after flowering damaged some of the infant bunches, reducing the size of the harvest. Abundant cropping also conspired to make this a very high-quality vintage, with the high yields helping to reduce any possible over-concentration in the fruit.
At harvest time, the health of the crop was exceptionally good, with fewer issues with mildew or botrytis than in recent vintages. One of the few problems was uneven ripening, with some berries becoming ripe whilst others were still green. At Domaine Ferret in Pouilly-Fuissé, winemaker Audrey Braccini told us how she had some difficult discussions with her vineyard teams, who were eager to harvest early (to retain freshness). She had to stand firm and persuade them to delay, in the interests of even-ripeness levels across the harvest. Audrey’s ‘war of nerves’ was experienced by many a grower across the region in 2018, and to a great extent, it was the decisions made at this point which determined outcomes.
In the winery & cellar
In the winery, some growers prevented or stopped the malolactic fermentation, to retain acidity. This might be concerning in any other year, but based on our initial tastings, the ripeness levels are such that the absence of ‘malo’ is a beautiful counterpoint to the ripe fruit. Whole bunch fermentation was widely used, and in greater percentages, with the green pyrazine compounds in the stalks being riper than in most years.
As good as the abundant white wine harvest is, it is the reds which will prove to be the greatest wines of 2018. Ripeness levels are superb, as is the tannic structure. Perhaps it is the quality of the fruit – pure, healthy and undamaged – which adds the impression of freshness, as the pH in these wines is not notably low. We found even the red grands crus easy to taste (usually the wines become more closed the higher you taste), so ripe were the tannins, making this one of the most pleasurable vintages to taste from the barrel that we can remember.
A small 7 hectare domaine, with excellent holdings in Chevalier-Montrachet and the Folatieres, Champs Gains and Clavoillons climats.
Owned by the same family for six generations, this 18 hectare domaine is based in Santenay and produces superb value reds.
In the past, Faiveley's style was 'firm', verging on austere. The reds, in particular, needed long ageing, to soften the tannins. Since Erwan Faiveley took over from his father in 2005 (becoming one of the youngest directors of a Burgundy domaine in the process) the style has softened and become more elegant. It is a style which in our opinion is complimented wonderfully by the 2018 vintage, with its generous, concentrated fruit.
Domaine Ferret is an established name in Fuissé but is also at the forefront of efforts to establish a classification system for the varied terroirs in the Pouilly-Fuisse appellation. After meeting winemaker Audrey Braccini, we have a sense that Pouilly-Fuissé is entering a period of renaissance.
Dominique Leguen took over the winemaking at this domaine from his father-in-law, Joel Hudelot-Baillet, in 2004. Described as a 'rising star' of the village, his wines are full of dark, voluptuous black fruits with the silky, creamy texture associated with Chambolle.
Having offered Burgundy en primeur from Domaine Louis Jadot for many years, we took the opportunity of visiting them last month. The ostensible reason was to taste the excellent 2018 vintage, but this was also an opportunity to become better acquainted with the team there and to learn more about one of the most important producers in Burgundy....(read more)
An up-and-coming 9 hectare estate in Mercurey, comprised principally of premier crus.
With around 19 hectares spread across Mersault, Nicholas Mestre's family domaine produces wines with great fruit purity and very little oak influence.
Brothers Nicolas and David Rossignol make an exceptional range of Gevrey wines at this leading biodynamic domaine.
A small, bright gem in Volnay, with holdings in neighbouring Pommard too. Jean-Pierre Charlot is a winemaking mentor to many domaine owners in Burgundy, having taught at the Lycée Viticole in Beaune for many years. His nephew Etienne Chaix has recently taken over as winemaker. The wines are elegant and pure, almost - but not quite - to a fault.
A family domaine established in the 19th century and still run by Chantal Tortochot. The wines here are very classical with polished tannins.
Other domaines we intend to offer (subject to allocations) include:
Côte de Nuits
Domaine Drouhin-Laroze, Gevrey-Chambertin
Surely one of the most over-looked domaines, with more than half of their holdings rated Grand Cru. Thanks to reviews from Neal Martin in recent years, they are becoming better known.
Côte de Beaune
Domaine Bonneau du Martray, Pernand-Vergelesses
Famously producing only Grands Crus from Corton and Corton-Charlemagne, Bonneau du Martray was also a pioneer in biodynamics. Bought in 2017 by the owner of (amongst other things) Arsenal Football Club.
Domaine Jean Pascal, Puligny-Montrachet
Described by one Burgundy expert as a 'peasant' domaine...meant politely and as a compliment ('paysanne'). The Pascals make superb, concentrated Puligny wines which are great value.
Domaine Borgeot, Remigny
The Borgeot brothers have built their small domaine parcel by parcel, and it now includes excellent holdings in Santenay and Chassagne.