Tasting the 2019 Burgundy vintage these past two weeks has been a somewhat surreal experience. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would taste, assess and most importantly enjoy a complete Burgundy vintage from the comfort of my own home!
Just shy of 300 barrel samples were collected from our domaines in the Côte d’Or in a temperature-controlled lorry and delivered to Suffolk, so I could taste these wonderful but delicate wines in optimum condition. Huge thanks go to the many people who made this possible, but most importantly, to our team at Goedhuis who went above and beyond to make this happen at the very last minute and to our many grower friends for their unstinting support!
The best setting to taste any wine during its development in barrel is of course at the estate itself. However, it is surely an indication of any vintage’s outstanding quality if the wines’ charm and appeal 100 per cent prevail when sent as samples. This is undeniably the case with these superbly balanced 2019s. Exceptional in quality both for reds and whites!
I was not entirely sure what to expect before I started tasting. Of course, I had heard many reports about the wonderful fruit quality of the Pinots and their fine, silky, layered tannic content, and the bright racy freshness in both whites and reds. Counterbalanced against this were the disturbing rumours after the wonderfully abundant 2018 vintage that yields, on average, would be down approximately 50 per cent.
Before tasting the wines, I had a series of Zoom meetings with growers in from Côtes de Beaune and Nuits to feel out the vintage. As ever there were small, localised variations from one commune to another, but overall, the story was much the same throughout.
The winter months following the 2018 harvest were relatively dry and mild. Budburst started in early April but sadly some vineyards, particularly in St Aubin and the village terroir of Puligny Montrachet, were hit by overnight frost. Throughout April and May the weather remained stable, relatively warm and only a little drier than average. Flowering started in good condition in June, before an unexpected two-day cold snap resulted in some aborted flowering. This was one of the most significant factors in the reduced yields in 2019. The summer months of July and August were dry, with lower than average rainfall, but crucially what little rain there was came at exactly the right time to maintain vegetative development and avoid hydric stress. Equally important, and very different to previous years was that average temperatures rarely surpassed the crucial 32 degrees. As Jean-Marie Fourrier in Gevrey Chambertin commented this allowed photosynthesis to continue throughout the ripening season.
When harvest started in the second week of September the fruit was wonderfully healthy, with a perfect balance between ripeness, sugar, acidity and the pip and skin tannins. The only sadness was the size of the berries and the very small crop - but at least it was destined to be high quality! Benoît Riffault at Domaine Sauzet summarised the year perfectly: “a chaotic but generally easy vintage!”
What of the wines? Having completed the marathon tasting (some 70 wines a day), I am hugely impressed with the quality. Some years a small crop can lead to wines that are too intense and overly concentrated. This is not the case in 2019. The impact of the millerandage (aborted fruit set) at flowering seems to have played an important part in the vintage’s overall standard. Yes, the summer was both warm and dry but because the berries were smaller in size and their numbers reduced, their need for moisture was less. The result is that the grapes developed perfectly with sufficient ripeness and sugar/alcohol content, and a brilliantly bright freshness due to a fine balance of tartaric acid.
The red wines are exciting and joyous in style. The fruit content is wonderfully enticing and full of fresh berries. The alcohol levels can, in some instances, be a little above average, but are never out of line. There is a silky nature to the tannins: they are ripe but sit beautifully in the wines and the lasting sensation is one of racy brightness. They are so full of energy.
The white wines have taken me by surprise. The very best are sensational. They have a volume of fruit, some of the warmer locations reflecting an exotic character, while others have a lacy freshness and delicious citrus vibrancy. I found them very rewarding, with easy midterm drinking potential. Each one I tasted was quite delicious.
We are still awaiting price confirmations, but most growers have confirmed their desire to respect the difficult year the world has been through in 2020. Even though yields in some instances are down 50% they wish to maintain last year’s prices, but we must all be prepared for a shock when the quantities and allocations are confirmed.
A full report and tasting notes will follow with prices in early January.