November 19th 2016
I can’t remember when I have enjoyed two solid weeks’ tasting cask samples as much before. Normally after day 8 or 9, at a rate of seven domaines a day and as many as 15 -20 wines at each, fatigue sets in and one’s natural ebullience and excitement for tasting the newest vintage can wane. But not so with the 2015s. All the hype has been worth it and not just for the reds, I love the white wines this year as well.
Having tasted the wines in June and again just before this year’s harvest in September, I was fortunate to have had an initial preview of what was in store. But the vagaries of Pinot Noir are such that it is really only after 12 full months in barrel once the principal winemaking processes are complete that we get a true feel for the absolute strengths of a vintage. That is why our November tastings are so important for assessing the true class of a vintage. I was lucky enough to have an army of support this year with Catherine Petrie my buying colleague and Charlie Whittington and Georgie Crawley from the sales team out the first week, focusing on the Côte de Beaune. In the second week I was joined by Johnny Goedhuis, Tom Stopford Sackville and Jamie Strutt (beautifully coinciding with his birthday) for a week of tasting in the Côte de Nuits.
Our opinions were sometimes not universally in agreement as to specific favourites, but one thing that was most certainly not in doubt was our love for the wines and the vintage. What makes a great vintage are the seasons leading up to the harvest. Studying for our wine exams, we are taught about textbook climatic conditions that might create the vintage of a lifetime. In reality this is rarely the case: often it is the unpredictable turns of nature, like a freak frost, a spike of abnormal heat, or even an unforeseen drought impacting on yields or ripeness that actually craft a vintage, creating both its uniqueness and calibre. And so it was in 2015.
The winter of 2014/2015 was surprisingly mild. In fact, as one vigneron said, “what winter?”. Although in truth a cold snap is usually favoured to kill off any pests and diseases and give the vine a true break, as it turns out this instance of mildness was not such a disadvantage as it turns out.
The flowering season was surprisingly hot, and whilst preferable to being too cold, this can often cause aborted development and an impact yields. The biggest concern in 2015 was the heat of June with record temperatures on some days reaching 40 degrees. It was likewise a very hot and dry July. If this had continued into August, predictions were that growers potentially had another 2003 on their hands, a vintage which whilst amazingly rich and flamboyant, is not a classically true Pinot Noir or Chardonnay vintage since the heat overpowered the subtleties of the grape varieties and their origins. Fortunately in 2015 August was received with a sigh of relief: intermittent showers of rain and sunshine saw the berries blossom, and harvest was set fair from the beginning of September onwards (a full 4 weeks ahead of 2016’s harvest date).
Immediately after the harvest, growers were worried whether the heat of June and July would overpower the flavours and style of their wines. But what has surprised them has been the level of natural acidity remaining in the wines, and a fear of excess has now turned to true excitement. 2015 is a vintage of true class.
To characterise the red wines, there is uniform appeal at all levels: village, 1er Cru and Grand Cru. At each stage, one notes there is a rise in quality, fully justifying each vineyard’s individual classification. However, as is always the case in years of true class, the prices will match, particularly the further up the scale one goes. It is a year where one can see the fresher fruit flavours of some of the cooler positioned vineyards sitting further up the hillsides, as well as the warm opulence and generosity of warmer locations. The tannins are extraordinarily supple, present but without excess, and the greatest surprise has been the wonderful line of freshness in nearly all the wines. This freshness sits quietly beneath the core of wines and giving them an additional layer of class and complexity.
The whites are possibly the polar opposite to the racy drive we saw in 2014. They have a lovely breadth and richness of fruit providing an immediate charm and appeal. But in a similar way as we saw with the reds, there is an exquisite line of fresh acidity sitting quietly beneath. Early reports were tempted to say that 2015 was solely a red vintage, but I am not so sure. I love these whites and think for many their additional volume of fruit may actually lead to its being one of the most popular recent vintages.
This is just a small taster of what is to come. We will be receiving our allocations and prices over the next 4-6 weeks with our en primeur offer with a full vintage report will be released in early January.