November 13th 2017
Our two weeks of tasting in Burgundy have come to an end. It has been a fantastic trip brimming with highlights. On Thursday and Friday we weaved right across the Côte D’Or, visiting some long established Goedhuis favourites as well as some new blood.
On Thursday we tasted with Géraldine Godot at Domaine de l’Arlot in Premeaux-Prissey, just outside Nuits St Georges. Géraldine took over the winemaking at the estate a few years ago and has set in motion some small but important changes. Sadly, like so many others, the domaine suffered heavy losses from the frost in many vineyards. She explained how it was a challenging vintage to vinify, due to the small volume in some cuves, and she made every effort to manage these difficulties. The most important thing for her is that when you taste the wines you forget it was a small harvest. The balance and rich textural fruit of her 2016s are testament to these efforts. What she pursues above all is “complexity, structure, and body,” as well as making wines which can be enjoyed in their youth. Tannins were easily over-extracted in 2016, given the reduced juice to skin ratio resulting from the low yield, and so gentle handling was essential. The whites were gorgeously full of energy, both ripe and fresh, with great balance.
I continued to be impressed by 2016’s whites with a visit to Domaine Bruno Colin in Chassagne Montrachet on Friday. The charming Pauline Genot took us through an excellent tasting across the appellations of Chassagne Montrachet, Puligny Montrachet, and St Aubin. 2016 has revealed itself as a vintage that shows the different expressions between climats so clearly. It is a dynamic, fresh, ripe and energetic vintage, and sits somewhere between 2014 and 2015 in character, benefitting from the best of each: vibrant acidity and ripe flavours, with its own elegant restraint.
The story continued at Domaine Jacques Carillon in Puligny Montrachet whose small estate has produced some exceptional 2016s that were a total joy to taste. They have a lively richness and floral elegance.
My week’s tastings finished at Benjamin Leroux’s cellars in Beaune. It’s hard for me to overstate quite how good his wines are this year. His business is part négociant, part domaine, all marketed under one brand. He tends to buy grapes rather than must or wine, and exercises a lot of control in the vineyards he buys from. Benjamin is not only a talented winemaker, he is also an excellent communicator about the region, with a deep understanding of its wines, its traditions and its challenges. Whilst frost will be the headline-grabbing hook of the vintage no doubt, he explained how mildew caused equally serious issues for many growers, and in fact was tightly linked to the frost. Those vines that had suffered frost damage in April had weakened immune systems, and so when mildew reared its ugly head in the summer months, it was the enfeebled flowers of the frost-damaged vines that suffered most, meaning these vineyards suffered a double trauma. It is for that reason we see such catastrophic losses in villages like Chambolle Musigny – touched first by frost and then ravaged by mildew – and almost normal yields in others like Morey St Denis, which escaped the frost and thus mildew.
I had the great pleasure of working in Pommard for two weeks last year during the harvest, but it is only after having tasted widely across the region a year later that I am beginning to understand the vintage as a whole. As you have read, the whites have been a beautiful surprise for me. I enjoyed their energy and balance so much, and appreciated their relative restraint next to the more exuberant 2015s, and will certainly be putting some in my own cellar. The reds are a more complicated picture: there were clearly some issues thrown at the region by the rollercoaster growing season. But the highs, for me, are of an exquisite quality. The fruit is beautifully poised, with richness not derived from high alcohol and tannin but from an amplified density of cool berry fruit. The tannins are ripe and silky, and the later growing season (particularly in comparison to the two precocious vintages either side of it) means the wines have a vital freshness. With some vineyards producing so little fruit, many growers increased their inclusion of whole bunch fruit, which worked for both practical and stylistic reasons. It added much needed volume to some tanks (it is much harder to vinify small cuvées, which have a high risk of becoming over extracted), and the ripe character of the stems twinned with the good health of the grapes that managed to make it to September has given the wines a beautifully aromatic quality. For those of you who love the classical style of a great Pinot vintage, like 2010, buy what you can in 2016. It has a beauty and charm of old, and I believe the balance and elegance to drink well from youth, with a long rewarding drinking window ahead of it.